The Justification Of 'Unrealistic' Rules
And The AD&D Hit Point System
Skip Past The Introductory Remarks And Move Right To The Justification Section
As I ran into or talked with more and more roleplayers from various parts of the country - and now even internationally via the internet - I couldn't help but notice a surprising tendency for a great many of them to dislike AD&D. They frequently were playing another roleplaying system, and I when I spoke of my experiences with AD&D they would but scoff at me.
"Why," I would ask them, "do you dislike AD&D so much?" The answer was invariably that they felt the AD&D system to be wholly unrealistic, particularly when they would speak of the game mechanics dealing with combat. This trend wasn't so surprising to me since I also usually found such individuals playing GURPS or some other systems which, in my opinion, bent over backwards to be too realistic in some ways concerning combat - and still failed in many regards.
If a roleplayer wishes to dwell on the aspects of combat to that level of detail rather than glide over them while preferring more story-related play, then no one can fault them for that. It is just a matter of personal preference.
What did bother me, however, was that not one of them saw how hit points or other simplifications could be justified in terms of a sort of 'in world' realism. That is, they made the erroneous though natural assumption that something just wasn't right when it initially fell short of their perhaps limited expectations, and then didn't even try to justify the written word before writing it off themselves. I, instead, would make the attempt, talk to others who felt the same way, and frequently would come up with some justification that offered realism while maintaining the written rule. If I couldn't, the rule would probably be modified or omitted, but only after the long attempt to justify it failed.
It is often interesting to me that many people's dissatisfaction with some 'unrealistic' rule in AD&D can often be mitigated or totally eliminated when presented with another way to look at the justification of the rule. Thus, it often doesn't take a rule change to make a rule more realistic, but merely altering one's point of view - POV - may do it as well. I can tell you it gives me some satisfaction to hear such a player say, "Oh, I never thought about it that way before," and see how big a change it can have on their opinion of a so-called 'unrealistic' rule.
I have always had a strange approach to roleplaying games. If a rule came along and on the surface it seemed wrong, instead of immediately dismissing it, I would frequently try to come up with a valid reason why the rule must be that way. Of course most of us already know a lot of those seemingly artificial rules were simply put into the system in the name of game balance. Why a first edition monk is forbidden to use flaming oil still escapes me - but if you know why, please email me. I can't imagine why, so monks are not so restricted on my world.
For an example in the GURPS system, why would a character that took 'poor' as a disadvantage not be able to accept the generous gift of top quality armor from another PC who was rich? Realistically, the rich PC would be at an advantage to have his strong, but poor friend well armed and outfitted, making them an excellent traveling companion, and the poor man would be better protected as well. So why would a poor man refuse?
Of course, if under a more roleplaying philosophy one took 'poor' in order to roleplay a poor character - rather than simply for the extra character points it would afford them during character generation - then the 'player' may have a reason not to take the gifts. But even then, the 'character' would be hard pressed to explain why 'he' wanted to be poor in terms of his world reality. This is not impossible, but it frequently doesn't happen. Next, if this 'poor' PC came across a pile of gold, he would, in essence, lose experience points for its discovery. After all, the GM would insist the player 'buy off' his PC's 'poor' disadvantage, as if somehow finding money made him stupid or forgetful. Thus, any other character points he may have had coming cannot be used to represent actual learning in other ways since they are forced to buy off this disadvantage.
And I know there are a handful of counter arguments to what I'm saying - mostly about a 'good' GM not leaving money laying around in easy to find piles, but that misses my point. They all seem to build on the false notion of trying to justify a rule that was only placed there to prevent players from abusing the system in the first place. It has no 'in world' reality; it's a game rule trying to do a game thing inside the fantasy world where PCs can actually see it - or its effects. This should never be done, and any game system that does this should be corrected if possible.
By the way, when a game rule becomes obvious on the character level, this is known as revealing the Gamer's Footprint. Depending on the rule, there may be a way of looking at it IC - In Character - such that it makes sense to them, the character, but not always. Such rules, often glaringly placed in the system almost as after thoughts to correct poor game balance or badly devised rules, often show the gamer's footprint, and your PC can see them and discern they are as if god above is manipulating reality around them for his or her whimsical reasons. And having your characters realize they are nothing but characters in a game or essentially a toy of a god often has unfortunate consequences. But I digress. Suffice it to say, this should be avoided.
On the other hand, some rules aren't placed into the system to help prevent abuse or to maintain game balance, but are instead placed there to achieve a level of ease when playing and perhaps to achieve a desired style of play. Take the 'Hit Point' system, for example. It isn't trying to prevent player abuse or an attempt to curtail the players from bending the rules to maximize their advantages; it's placed there to make a horribly complex situation rather easy to move through.
If you want too much reality in your combat systems, several thousand variables need be taken into account for realistic combat. Anything less and the combat system IS unrealistic. So you simplify. If you cut back from a few thousand variables to a few dozen variables you might end up doing combat second by second, using fatigue, hit locations, different kinds of hit points, armor quality by the piece, current state of repair for one's armor, weapon quality, adjustment factors, speed factors, reaction factors, etc., etc., and you end up with a system that is comparatively slow. To be even more realistic, you'd have to adjust your character's numbers for each wound or after each round's exertions as they may be fatigued, and these adjustments would depend on the type of wound, its location, and how it may or may not affect performance. And in all likelihood, if the wounds weren't treated immediately, you'd have to include factors for how continued activity would further aggravate the wound and hamper your PC's performance. Even worse, you'd next have to consider infections, especially as they are highly likely under the circumstances in which most adventurers manage to be injured. Anything less IS unrealistic.
I know it's true that if you live for ultra realistic combat in your games then this is not such a bad thing. You may enjoy the GM asking you what you will do this second, and then performing a second's worth of action, and doing it again and again for a long time. Realistic combat is rather fast, but an open melee could last several minutes, and this would make that particular battle last over a hundred rounds. Even when a good GM moves it along, the battle may last several hours of game time. Obviously, for many that is too much detail or too much time to spend on some meaningless random encounter. I have even seen GMs refuse to let random encounters exist since they bog down their game when using that level of realism in their combat, and thus nothing happens that isn't planned.
In my opinion, taking out random factors like that actually lessens the world's over all reality far more than any problem inherent to the original combat system, so you sort of lose the 'realism' battle before you even start when doing such things if your goal was adding realism in the first place. But that's another story.
Yet one can simplify the game system too much as well. Rounds that actually last an entire minute seem overly long - even if it is only 'roughly' a minute in 2nd edition. A lot can happen in a minute, as well we know, and many find it impossible to get over that particular problem with the AD&D system. True, it was placed there to make combat proceed smoothly and rapidly, perhaps so the players could move on to other aspects of the game instead of combat, and as such it was never meant to be a shining example of realism. It's just that many, myself included, like a different level of realism that can't be found either at one-minute or at one-second intervals.
When push came to shove, I found it much easier to put a little more realism into AD&D than I could take aspects out of the GURPS system, That is, it was easier to smarten up AD&D than it was to dumb down GURPS, as some would say - though this might suggest AD&D is inherently stupid while GURPS is inherently smart, but this is not really the case, so please don't make this inference from this example. So my rounds were somewhere in between, with magic happening faster than normal, but the rounds lasting only between 10 and 20 seconds each.
Actually, dealing with GURPS is a rather recent development in my roleplaying career. I've always been with players who tended to 'Smarted Up' the AD&D system, and I usually found their revisions to be both manageable as well as enjoyable and easy. It was there, then, that a long history of GMs and players had exposed me to their 'justifications' of certain rules. I either accepted them, revised them, wrote my own, or most frequently employed all these techniques to make the AD&D system better suited to me; so it's more realistic and still has an ease and measure of simplicity such that it continues to run smoothly.
As a brief aside, when modifying a rule for the sake of realism, if you can do it without adding extra time or bookkeeping, you would be remiss if you didn't do it. But if it takes additional work, then it is a subjective choice for the GM and the players. How much extra detail and bookkeeping can they stomach before it passes the point of diminishing return? This is a personal choice for each of us. Just because a rule is more realistic doesn't necessarily make it better, just different, and what one is looking for in a game varies too greatly from person to person to claim your preferences have intrinsic superiority to another's. Be careful when making such comparisons. Now back to the main theme.
And so after years of play, a mindset of conventional wisdom arose to explain the 'whys' of a few of those more bothersome rules. That is, at least for the ones we all could agree had some merit and deserved to be kept rather than omitted. And though I don't want to ramble on forever in this article by going over dozens of such rule justifications, I will take the time to explain my justifications for the hit point system, why some people have a problem with the standard AD&D hit point system, and how I envision it working.
Many I have talked to have a hard time visualizing exactly what hit points are and how they could be realistic. If I cut your throat with a dagger, it shouldn't matter how many hit points you have. You should die. When a fireball goes off with a heat that can melt gold, shouldn't your PC be burned to a crisp? It isn't like he totally avoided being engulfed in the flames, considering its volume. And when a couple dozen arrows hit your PC and he should be a walking pincushion, how can anything justify the fact that not only does he still stand, but also he continues to fight? And not just fight, but fight as well then as he did at the beginning of the melee before he was injured at all? Does any of this sound familiar to you?
And so this is how I handle the hit point system.
All characters, no matter who or what they are - at least those of a mortal variety - have 'actual' hit points equal to the maximum value afforded them by their first hit dice. Thus, a warrior would have 10, a rogue would have 6, a priest 8, and a mage 4 - or a bit more with the constitution bonus on the first hit dice. It is these hit points that are the only 'real hit points' the character has or ever will. Then what, pray tell, are those hit points beyond the first dice?
As far as the hit points beyond the first dice are concerned, they came from great skill and combat prowess, an attunement with the universe, a rapport with one's deity, living in harmony with nature, developing one's chi, being one with the force, sheer luck, or in any other way you wish to describe it, tapping into an existence greater than themselves far beyond the capabilities of most mortal men. The higher the level, the greater this connection.
For a priest, this is obviously a connection to god, and this is also true for many others as well. Druids may be connected to nature, mana, or erg points, monks have a harmony with the force of humanity and a secret 'inner' strength, but mostly this can all be coming from one's god. If fact, again on my world, no PC can ever achieve any level beyond 7th unless they are firmly committed to this force, deity, or whatever. They have until then to make up their minds unless they are a cleric or something that requires this decision to be made much earlier.
During meditation or prayer, one sacrifices personal power to this higher power. This personal power naturally rejuvenates over time. But in those relatively rare instances when the PC really needs a helping hand, the deity can easily return this power - AND MORE - to cope with a time of crisis. This may take many forms, from a slightly advanced warning to an augmented aura of resistance and protection, or even just plain luck in avoiding most of the damage.
NOTE: The actual deity may not be keeping such close tabs on your PC, but the deity's hierarchy would be. Their minions, thus, would be ready to lend support in times of dire need. This could be likened to, in fact may be, what a guardian angel would be doing. But I digress.
When PCs with many hit points are 'hit' with an arrow, this does not necessarily mean it is actually sticking out of them. Rather, it could just mean they over exerted themselves to avoid its deadly piercing attack. So instead of sticking in them, it glanced off, perhaps bruising them, scratching them, or perhaps they pulled a muscle avoiding it. It may even not have touched them at all or left any mark but instead depleted part of the PC's luck at avoiding damage or depleted their favor with their god as god helped them avoid the arrow. They would still be 'damaged,' but the damage may not be physical.
NOTE: If the arrow carried some magic that required physical contact to work - such as an arrow of slaying - then obviously it had to touch them, but it still may not have punctured them. Alas, the death magic probably does not require more than mere contact or even more than sufficient proximity and circumstances to work, so it matters little.
Recall, one's AC does not represent what it takes to touch someone. Instead it represents what it takes to damage someone. And even if you succeed in hitting someone's AC, this does NOT necessarily mean the weapon, spell, or whatever therefore did the sort of damage you'd normally expect it to do to a 6 HP farmer with AC 10. So a knife across the farmer's throat may indeed slash it, while it may only represent a nick, a scratch, a pulled muscle, or even just a parry of that weapon.
But hey, if they parried the blow, why take any damage at all? Simply because that damage may represent loss of luck, divine favor, fatigue, a scratch, a bruise, a pulled muscle, etc. and we never insist on knowing exactly what it must be since it's often not important to keep track of that sort of detail. In this abstract system, hit points can represent far more than mere physical damage.
Whatever it actually did, since the attack roll was sufficient to hit the PC's AC, they will lose some of their vast reservoir of hit points, but the arrow needn't actually be sticking in them.
If a fireball went off and the PC was engulfed, the farmer standing next to them would be burned to a crisp, but the PC's aura, will, and stamina - partially represented by their saving throw that represents how well they may stave off a spell's damage, for example - would stop most of the heat just short of their person. Remember, it is not just fire, but magical fire. It has a magical component. Otherwise, a Globe of Invulnerability would not stop it - yet it does stop it. The same spell would not, however, have any effect on real fire. So there is a difference. It is, therefore, this same difference that partially accounts for how an adventurer may mitigate some of the deadly effects of the spell while the farmer probably can't.
NOTE: This is a 2nd edition article. 3rd edition has made a subtle change. The Fireball spell no longer fills its entire volume but now spreads out in a far more limited fashion, making it possible to justify the half-damage save with a dexterity based saving throw. However, that also implies, unlike 2e FBs, if you were tied up, held, immobile, or flat footed, you would not even get a saving throw vs. this spell and would thus take full damage. Nevertheless, most of these concepts about hit points directly translate to 3e. Back to 2e...
The hit points of damage done to them would then reflect the loss of part of their reservoir of power. Thus, though such a character may have taken many HPs of damage from a fireball, it is not necessarily true they are blackened, smoky, or even charred a bit or have singed hair. But even if the damage isn't physical, it still takes its toll.
Of course when a high hit point character is hit and the damage does not reduce them to their first hit die's worth of HPs, there probably will still be some superficial damage. But it is not third degree burns, punctured organs, or slit throats, etc. It more likely would be scratches, bumps, bruises, sprains, pulled muscles, and the like for the physical aspects of the injuries. Once their HPs drop into the realm of their first hit dice, however, that's a different story, and the injuries become far more physical.
For example, a farmer with 6 HPs and a high-level warrior with 6 HPs left - out of 100 HPs - would look remarkably the same when a dragon bites them. The farmer would naturally be bitten in half and killed. The warrior, when he had more hit points, even if the bite hit, would normally just take some HPs of damage as he skipped away from the brunt of it. Only when down to his last few HPs would he be bitten in half, just as the farmer was. Until then, any bite on the warrior does not represent the same level of physical damage as it would for the farmer, but instead represents use of skill, luck, favor, and minor physical exertions and superficial damage.
Eventually, 'properly' abused in this way, the PC may be reduced to their 'actual' hit points - those from their first hit dice only. Before that time, even with considerable 'damage' - this is having less hit points than their maximum - if this was still above their actual hit points - the first dice - they could realistically fight as well toward the end of a battle as they did at the beginning. If the GM wishes, they can start to give negative modifiers in combat after the character becomes wounded to this point, but it's up to them how much realism they really require for their game. They may simply allow one to fight to their last positive hit point while at full combat capacity if they don't mind this simplification.
Some GMs, however, may even begin to knock you down, have you bleeding so badly you need immediate medical attention, or what have you, all in the name of dramatic license and color. Your PC might not be able to fight as well, move as fast, carry as much, all due to sufficient injuries, since this is all very realistic. It would be at this time, after being reduced to their actual hit points of their first hit dice, that the arrow actually pierced their skin, the dagger really cut their throat, or the fire managed to badly burn them. Also, this is the time when serious scaring or maiming injuries might occur - though a Cure Light Wounds can do wonders for such things, but that's a different matter.
Naturally if the PC is ever in a position where they were UNABLE to properly defend themselves, they might be killed outright. For example, if magically sleeping, they may be slain in a single round. But if sleeping normally, the assassin's dagger would miss its true mark at the last second, the target character waking up in the nick of time, or however you may choose to justify that particular situation. An assassin's instant kill skill may be getting around this early warning defense somehow, for example. Perhaps a rogue's 'surprise back stab' takes more out of the PC - does multiple damage - because the less notice one has, the more power must be expended to save them. Tied up and helpless, a PC is easily killed with a single dagger thrust, and one needn't whittle away at that 20th level warrior's neck for 30 rounds; death would be automatic.
At least under the assumption the attacker has nothing else to worry about, so no other melee could be going on in the immediate area to get the automatic kill. If open melee was still occurring, the attacker couldn't let his guard down and merely is allowed to automatically hit for rolled damaged or can roll to hit at plus +4 (victim has no dexterity or shield bonuses naturally) for maximum damage. If they choose the latter option, they may still miss (like on a 1), but I wouldn't bother to make them roll for critical fumbles in such a case.
So when you hear of someone claiming they don't care how many hit points a character has and expresses their view that if such a character got a spear through their heart, they would still die, I can only say they are looking at hit points as something only in the physical realm, and they are unfortunately ignoring many other things hit points could be. To my way of thinking, such a high hit point character simply would avoid the deadliest effects of a spear - unless already reduced to their first hit dice worth of hit points - and would NOT have the spear go through their heart, even if it did hit their AC. This allows for a more heroic style of play while preserving realism.
Now some may claim I'm mixing up AC and HPs. Not at all. They are tied together and do overlap in some ways, however. But AC is also an abstraction, so it's no surprise these things may be confusing or similar in some areas. But I digress.
On low magic, low level worlds striving for a certain flavor of more 'realistic' damage, one can always just have certain attacks do more damage than normal. For example, the GM may claim the spear thrust was such a surprise, and it essentially delivered 2, 3, 4, or 5 times its normal damage - sort of like a surprise back stab. This approach could help explain why a 1d6 weapon could take out a 25 hit point warrior with a single hit, or seriously injure them, for example.
So whether approaching this from a way to justify how a character can have more hit points than one might normally expect from a normal man, or approaching it from a way to justify how a lowly dagger can do sufficient damage to such a character and still kill with a single well placed critical thrust, a way can be found to justify it.
One aspect of the problem AD&D appears to have that other systems seem to avoid is reliability. For example, that roll for dodge, parry, armor, luck, etc. or however they justify avoiding damage in other less abstract systems - rather than taking it - only sometimes works, while hit points always seem to work and are a reliable buffer from real lethal harm. Thus, a man of great dodging skill can avoid many attacks, and no one complains he unrealistically survives a dagger across the throat when he dodged it. Yet he might fail his dodge roll sometimes, so it is still possible to 'realistically' kill him with a single dagger thrust, even on the first try. But many may complain a 50 hit point warrior unrealistically survives a dagger across the throat because it 'hit' his AC and did damage and therefore must have done that sort of damage. Or they may say there is no way a 1d4 weapon can ever out right kill him - at least not on the first try.
If fact, the 50 HP warrior probably just dodged the dagger too. Only in AD&D, the fact this lessens their reservoir of hit points might compel one to think this must be as nasty and as physical a wound as we'd normally expect from a dagger, and not just a scratch or a pulled muscle one might get from a dodge or a parry maneuver, as it probably really was. Only when their hit points are reduced to the realm of their first hit dice will these wounds become greatly physical and therefore something more in the realm of our everyday experiences. Only there should we expect to see that kind of physical injury. So you see, sometimes, it's just a matter of one's point of view.
NOTE: This system also assumes characters are always doing their best to avoid damage. If they ever willingly embrace damage, the GM should vastly increase the damage done by the weapon or spell or whatever. As an example, deliberately cutting your own throat with a dagger would do far more than a mere 1d4. Or the GM should vastly reduce your PC's HPs and allow you to directly attack your 'real' hit points, thus treating any beyond the first hit dice as already gone WHILE you ALLOW yourself to be damaged. You cannot, therefore, later decide to just start using those HPs again since they are effectively gone IF you took damage. You can be healed as normal, however. The practical gist of this is that characters should not go jumping off sheer cliffs or drinking acid or doing things that are clearly overly foolish, all under the assumption these things do X amount of damage and they know they can take it since they have more than X hit points. That's OOC thinking, anyway. Players deliberately having their PCs not doing their best to avoid damage probably will be sorry to discover some damage multiplier tossed into the mix, and, sadly, their PC may not survive the ordeal, and rightly so.
Hit point reliability seems to be an issue, then. The problem is that a dodge or parry roll may or may not succeed - however good one may be at it - while high hit points always seem to be there reliably. But they are not always there after all, as it turns out. Surprise attacks may bypass them - by doing more damage than normally possible for such a weapon. Assassination attempts may out right kill, critical hits may do fantastic or even lethal damage, decapitation or slaying magic exists, asphyxiation can kill independent of hit points, and poisons and death magic may immediately be lethal as well, no matter how many hit points a character has. The point is, hit points will not always save your character, and if instant death is what you need to make a system realistic, AD&D has this possibility as well.
The next problem arises when one considers healing magic. The mistake most often made is they feel healing magic must only heal, restore, or repair 'physical' damage. And if that is all healing can do, then it makes no sense to think of a Cure Light Wounds, for example, as restoring skill, luck, favor, or anything other than simple physical health.
If part of my hit points come from my skill at dodging, then how can a Cure Light Wounds repair my dodging skill? Why is my dodging skill depleted at all, simply because I dodged something?
These seem like good questions, but they are well rooted in the erroneous assumption that the CLW only heals physical health, and in the notion that all hit points actually represent is physical health. This is simply not true, and the question is therefore a nonsense question. Also, it isn't so much dodging something, but barely dodging it, perhaps not even fully dodging it. You are hit to some degree, and you do, in all likelihood, take some physical damage. But your loss of hit points can represent more than just that. And if that is a pulled muscled this time, well, having a pulled muscle may make it harder to dodge next time.
CLW can also restore favor, replenish luck, or heal some minor injuries. A pulled muscle, for example, does not represent a lot of HPs for a farmer, but for a warrior that relies on this muscle to dodge or parry, healing the same muscular strain would do wonders.
But if a CLW cures 8 HPs, and thus practically puts a farmer's whole physical body back in order in one shot, why won't it repair the entire, less severe physical injuries of a fighter if you claim they are only minor injuries?
This is the trickiest aspect of the abstraction, but there is a reason. Again, it hinges on the fact a CLW does not treat just the physical ailments and injuries, and you can't target it on them and them alone. The CLW replenishes the body and spirit simultaneously. If you had 100 HPs at max, maybe 10 HPs represent your real HPs and 90 represent your 'quasi' HPs that come from skill, favor, luck, etc. A CLW would thus heal the physical to quasi nature of your PC's connection to life energy in the same ratio of 1 to 9 - that is, one part physical and 9 parts spiritual. You have no control over this. It just works this way. And it is as real as one's luck, skill, divine favor, life energy, or what have you, none of which can be seen, and all of which is well beyond the merely physical. So if you have a hard time 'seeing' it, perhaps that is why.
Natural healing also now has this quasi component to it. You no longer heal X HPs per day no matter your level, but 1 HP/day/level. Thus, natural healing also works in the same ratio of real to quasi-hit points.
Finally, another problem some people have with the hit point system is that they don't like the differences in classes. For example, a man is a man and should have a man's hit points. Why then does a warrior have so many while a mage has so few and a farmer has practically none? Especially since beyond the first dice, this is supposed to be some sort of connection to god - or other power - and not some measure of physical stamina.
Many of these misconceptions can be back tracked to the false notion hit points are only physical, and they thus have a hard time envisioning how one man can have more physical hit points than another man. Yet they have no problem understanding how one man may have greater combat training than another.
Thus, the question of why does a fighter have a greater connection to god than a cleric or a rogue or a mage needs to be answered. Why do warriors seem to have higher constitution bonus than other classes - even for dice beyond the first? And why don't clerics have the strongest connection to god in this regard? What's up with that?
Naturally if you wish a more even playing field you could just change the game a bit and give all PCs six sided hit dice - or whatever - and the same constitution bonuses. But if you instead wished to preserve what more than a few felt was needed for game balance, then you can try to justify the disparity in hit dice between the classes and stick with the written rule. To that end, I give you may take on it.
Warriors, in particular, may continue to add to their real physical hit points. It is harder to keep track of it this way, but one could have the rule that their PC's real hit points are not just from their first dice and CON bonus, but also would include ALL their constitution bonuses as well - but not subsequent dice, only the constitution bonuses on those dice. Thus, real injuries occur when their hit points drop below that level. This way all characters may have more real hit points.
Warriors have more since their better physical conditioning is an ongoing development. This takes care of the constitution bonus, but what about the difference in the number of sides on the hit dice?
Again, warriors have greater combat skills and thus roll with the punches better and need less warning time. They may even do more with less warning time. That is, if you gave both a mage and a warrior one second extra notice, the warrior might be able to do more with it due to greater reflex combat training.
Clerics are next since they have good combat skills and a stronger connection to god. Rogues are next since their dexterity scores afford them a way to avoid damage. Finally, mages are last since the arcane arts are so demanding they have little time for physical or reflex training. This class advantage is assumed correct, so a warrior is just 25% better at avoiding damage than a cleric - since 1d10 is 25% higher than 1d8 - and similarly 67% better than a rogue and 150% better than a mage. Is this fair? I think so, with the assumptions built into the class system. But if you don't like it, you can change it easily enough.
Also, it should be noted that since hit dice have a range, ALL warriors are not automatically more powerful - in hit points - than even all mages. Averages will generally make them that way, but there is no absolute rule that guarantees it, and players should not automatically assume such things with questions like: 'How come warriors have more hit points than mages?' Clearly, they don't always have to be this way.
My point is simply that as a matter of game balance, the classes have been built in such a fashion that would seem to support their playability during the years of play testing. Thus, by searching for a way to justify the rules as they are, you can preserve this tried and true game balance, and I feel I've done a good job at justifying the hit point system for most games of AD&D. Though it is true their balance can be thrown out of whack, for example, if you dwell only in low powered campaigns or high-powered campaigns rather than moving smoothly from 1st level to 20th level in a few years of play, it is generally fine the way it is. But if your game does dwell more in one area than the other does, further adjustments may still be made in the name of game balance.
This, at least, is how I envision the Hit Point system working. It seems reasonable, and though a few minor points of standard AD&D may need changing here and there, on the whole it works for me. Perhaps it will work for you as well.
This is also how I play the game. First, I treat the rule in question like a discovered law of nature. I try to find out why it may be so, and if a few others and I can reasonably justify it, then we do so. In this way we may be able to preserve a good game without abandoning it too soon for yet another game system. I think most people who are disenchanted with AD&D are this way not so much because of a problem with the game itself, but because all too often they have seen it used badly, perhaps never even once having had the experience of a good game with good players or a great GM. Just seeing one game where a different POV reigns may frequently be enough to open their eyes to at least the possibility such a rule could be more realistic than they initially thought, but if they are never exposed to that POV, their initial assessment will hold and they may even feel compelled to abandon the game.
Thus, they abandon AD&D in search of 'better' things, perhaps with the erroneous conclusion it was the game or its rules that made it bad for them rather than the people they happened to be playing with or some misinterpretation of the rules or erroneous assumption about how they worked. It may be something else, to be sure - perhaps a need to have less imagination required to make a system work, preferring to have things spelled out in nauseating detail - but that is for another article.
In the long run, exploring your options within the game seems to make for a more enjoyable game. I hope you find this to be true as well.
Here are two companion articles. They may elaborate on some of these issues.
A Brief Look At When To Act Injured In AD&D (Why Are Our Adventurers So Tough They Never Seem Hurt Even When They Are?)
A Closer Look At The Hit Point System (What The Numbers Mean)
© May of 1999
James L.R. Beach
Waterville, MN 56096