Something I have been noticing in later editions of D&D, as well as in the FPS (First Person Shooter) world has been an increase in of action “set pieces”. I define a “set piece” as a particular area in a game that is a tightly-controlled self-contained experience. Older games (both FPS and D&D) had more organic gameplay with fewer set pieces. How you dealt with a problem wasn’t just how do a players uses the tactical options of the character sheet, but how many resources was the player willing to commit to the problem and whether falling back to a previous room would be the better part of valor.
Sure, from time to time, you might be locked in a room with a boss monster, but that was the exception, not the rule. Backtracking for supplies or taking advantage of a previous room’s layout is an old-school way of play (yes, I am combining old-school FPS and D&D in this post). I can’t tell you how many times in DOOM, I have opened a room full of demonic entities, taken a bunch of damage, and fled to a previous room to grab a health pack. Then, because I knew the layout of the previous room and I knew that it is clear of monsters, I carefully drew the enemies into the previous room and slaughtered them mercilessly. Or, in a D&D setting, look at what the clever players in E. Reagan Wright’s game did:
Cray crayest thing they did though: they spiked a couple of pit traps open. These are big 10 by 10 affairs that span the hallway, so the party was cutting off their options for retreat. The party didn’t get it, but the magic-user insisted. Not my place to judge – well, I mean, it is my place to judge, that’s kind of the DM’s role, but you know what I mean – it’s not my place to judge their tactics, only to judge what happens next.
…They blundered into a back room and found somewhere around 20 skeletons and a like number of zombies waiting for them. With nowhere else to go and done being turnt for the night, the whole mob bum rushed the PCs, who were ready for them.
They hoofed it back to one of the open pit traps, and the magic user blew his scroll of Tenser’s Floating Disk to magic up a lily-pad that they could leap frog across. They hustled the last tank over, dropped the spell and stood jeering and mooning the frustrated dead for a moment before exiting The Dungeon down a man but up a great big pile of gold and long lost forgotten lore.
However, in newer games, there is a bigger emphasis on “set piece” encounters. You enter a room and are forced to deal with what is in there, rinse and repeat. You go from one high-energy battle to the next in rapid succession. There are mechanics designed to quickly bring up the character up to full health, so that each encounter is an epic battle for the ages. The players are given many “per encounter” tools so that they can throw everything they have at a problem and then it will all be replenished just in time for the next big encounter. Keeping track of dwindling resources is of less importance.
Rather than the slow tactical gameplay that builds up to moments of pulse-pounding action, modern games want to keep the action going indefinitely. Yes, even the old DOOM games had slow moments, those times when the monsters were all slaughtered and you picked up ammo and health (or made the decision to leave the health for later), as well as when you searched for secret doors by running along the walls and smashing the “use” key.
What does all this have to do with health systems? Health is a resource that can spent and restored like arrows, flasks of oil, etc.
In many old-school D&D games, clerics do not get a spell slot until level 2. No Cure Light Wounds at level 1! That means the only healing available for 1st level characters is to rest and slowly regain health, whether in town or risking a night in the dungeon. Thus, entering battle is a big decision, because the players are risking their hit points, which do not come back easily. In older FPS games, there are only so many health packs on a map. Therefore, the player has to ration them carefully. If the character is missing 9 health, but a nearby health pack restores 20 health, do you heal now and waste 11 health points or do you save it for later? Of course, by not being a full health, you may not survive the next encounter.
Now compare this to modern games.
BEHOLD THE POWER OF MY MICROSOFT PAINT SKILLS
In modern FPS, the trend has been toward regenerating health. No health packs on a map, just hide behind a wall for 10 seconds and suddenly you are at full health. Therefore, you can fully throw yourself into each battle, because you are 100% guaranteed to regain your full health between each battle, or even in battle. You cannot run out of regenerations (just like Doctor Who!), so there is never a situation where you need to completely change your tactics based on low health. It seems that once regenerating health became popular, it seems like the quality of most FPS games went down the drain. Good map design, careful placement of resources, etc went away in favor of BIG BOOM SET PIECES!
You can see the beginnings of this in games like the first Halo game. In that game, you have health, which is only restored between levels or via health packs. However, you also have shields that regenerate. Once the shields drop, health is damaged. This is a kind of hybrid between the extremes of health packs only and full regeneration, but the series hops aboard the regeneration train in the second installment. Much like Deism being the gateway to full-blown atheism in Western thought, the hybrid health / regenerating shield mechanic simply lead to full regeneration rather quickly.
This kind of thinking has even infected D&D. In later editions of the game, clerics get healing spells at level 1, many classes other than divine spellcasters get healing spells/abilities, and regaining health via shorter rests is easier than ever. If there ever is a 6E, I am certain that there will be a “regain all health after an encounter” rule written in. Simply put, this is not a good thing.
Here is one reason why:
Is there anyone who likes anecdotal D&D stories from modern versions of the game? Other than the “I rolled a 1 / 20 on the d20 and my GM made something funny happen”, there really aren’t any good anecdotal stories from modern editions and even the “I rolled a 1/20” stories get old quickly. With all resources (not just health) being plentiful, there are simply are no stories of daring or creative solutions to problems. The incident I included from Mr Wright’s D&D group is 77 times more interesting than anything happening in 5E…at least, interesting in a gameplay sense. There is all kinds of (bad) interesting things about the direction Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro is taking D&D.
Is this combined analysis of FPS and D&D accurate? Or am I out of my mind?
Now, I know that in my old-school-ish RPG, Demons in Space, through the use of health packs and the Loot Token (LT) system, a character can regain all their health after a battle. However, by spending LT for health, the player is not spending them on ammo, armor, or a new gun. My hope is that the LT system will allow for interesting situations in which players must use limited resources to accomplish their goals, but, they have a broad choice in which resources they have. Does a character have lots of ammo, but low health or lots of health and low ammo?