Cinematic hit points (C.H.P.) are a kind of hit points that only the main characters in a campaign possess. When a character loses C.H.P. they are never taking physical damage, but are rather suffering heroic near misses such as “arrows through the clothing” and the like. Normal, core-rules hit points are distinctly different: they represent an ability to soak raw damage, a kind of toughness characters build up after enduring the pains of combat, blended with experience and training which helps characters avoid injury in the first place. As characters accumulate pools of C.H.P.s they are not necessarily getting tougher or more experienced, but rather more significant to the story. We could describe cinematic hit points as “the sound level of any one character’s in-game theme music.” The addition of cinematic hit points allows for the creation of interesting and sustainable characters players might otherwise avoid because of basic game mechanics.
The DM can assign C.H.P.s to any character in the game: at player character generation (to compensate underpowered and under-munchkined characters), as rewards for overcoming challenges (often awarded with experience points in the manor of “special points”), or as another way for villains to threaten the player characters (making them more survivable and more likely to “re-occur”). When non-combat oriented characters have C.H.P. it puts them on-par with the more combat oriented (though no more important to the story) characters, who typically possess the hit points of a small European nations. If you have ever shied-away from playing a character class based on their noticeably small hit point progression, you can see one benefit of cinematic hit points. If you have ever rolled-up a set of stats and thought “how would this person ever have survived childhood?” while looking for new dice to roll stats with…you get the point.
Cinematic hit points are “lost” before regular hit points are lost (see the Protagonistic Purge feat for an exception). However, it is possible for a character’s role-played actions to be so ridiculous, foolhardy, reckless, or utterly out of character that they bypass their own C.H.P. in certain instances. The DM is the final arbiter of when this can occur, but some examples include…
- A PC, for no real in-game reason, decides to climb a sheer cliff while wearing all their armor and gear. Perhaps the player is trying to gain XP or perhaps the character is showing off their ranks in climb? After a couple hundred feet of smooth-going, the character critically fails a climbing check and plummets toward the ground. In this case, their C.H.P. are bypassed, and the fall damage goes right to regular hit points [if this character’s gaming group has embraced the falling rules of the Cinematic System, she’s in deep shit].
- Another PC, lets recall our early Social Studies texts and refer to him as “Enrique”, is pick pocketed by “Frederica” and shouldn’t know his gold pouch was lifted. Enrique “decides” to check his inventory soon after, and “discovers” his loss. As if by omniscience, Enrique runs up to Frederica and confronts her (acting on out-of-game knowledge). In the ensuing combat scene, Enrique’s C.H.P. seem to evaporate as the DM rules his actions have bypassed them: Frederica hands him his ass.
- [Believe it or not this example actually happened during a session I ran]: A Chaotic Good cavalier, acting heroically, runs off a group of bandits who were terrorizing a small village. While resting-up afterwards in a local tavern, this same Cavalier decides to pimp-out the barmaids to make some extra cash, backhanding those who opposed his intentions. Aside from the negative XP the Cavalier achieved, these actions revoked his C.H.P. for the session. Thus, if the barmaids rose up in arms, the Cavalier would have to deal with them without cinematic hit points, as he was no longer a hero.
- In the middle of an epic fray on the deck of a ship, a PC decides to enact a moment from an Errol Flynn movie and swing across the area on a rope while attacking opponents in reach. Instead, the character botches a skill check and careens into one of the masts at full speed. In this case, the DM decides the action was an attempt to be heroic, and does not bypass the PCs cinematic hit points when dealing damage. If, however, there was no epic fray, and the PC in our example was trying to swing down and maliciously kick another PC into the ocean (especially if there was no real role-playing reason for doing so), then his C.H.P. would be bypassed as he smashed into the rigid xylem.
Cinematic hit points never heal at a given rate and are not usually restored with magic, (because they are outside the perception of the characters in the story), but they function in all other regards just like normal hit points. The DM directly controls when C.H.P.s recover. Depending on the style (or whim) of the DM, cinematic hit points might return (regenerate, recover, etc.) in the following contexts:
- When the game session ends and the PCs are in a relatively safe place,
- When a significant goal in the plot has been reached,
- When in-game time frames are fast forwarded, like in a montage,
- When a player has to leave a game session (with their character) and the rest of the party is short-handed for dangerous duty,
- After the characters sleep or rest up,
- When the PCs are forced into a combat scene as a consequence of the rolling plot wagon, and lack the necessary hit points to survive.
Basic ideas/guidelines for awarding C.H.P.
- A group of players roll up first level characters, and most of these have more than 10 hit points, several stats 18 or higher, and are generally combat-focused (well beyond the biases of the game itself). One character has no stat over 14, a low amount of hit points, and extremely limited combat options. However, this character has a rich background and a well-defined role. The DM awards this character 10 C.H.P. beyond that of the other characters’ starting totals.
- During their first adventure, the characters mentioned above encounter a young blue dragon terrorizing a village. The non-combat oriented character risks his life, dodging blasts of electricity to rescue children, while one of the combat-focused characters jumps on the dragon’s back, riding it while attacking. The other PCs don’t really do anything heroic, taking cover and attacking when it is safe for them. The DM awards the non-combat oriented character and the dragon-rider 4 C.H.P. each the next time experience points are awarded.
- The DM puts together a particularly challenging campaign where the starting, low-level characters will need a bit of a boost: she starts her players with 20 bonus C.H.P. each, and gives 5-10 more C.H.P. to non-combat oriented PCs.
When characters take damage to their cinematic hit points they are not actually being hit with anything. Thus, if a character with 20 C.H.P. were “hit” by an opponent’s poisoned dart for 3 damage, their C.H.P. would drop from 20 to 17 but they would not have to worry about the poison effect. This same character would have to worry about the poison if they took 21 damage from the dart. If a monster with the improved grab combat ability scored a “hit” against a character and only did cinematic damage, they couldn’t move on to a free grapple because they never actually hit the character in question! Thus, cinematic hit points are more valuable than regular hit points, assuming your gaming style doesn’t get them bypassed on a regular basis.
There may be times when the DM will rule that certain attack forms have their effect even if they do not deplete the C.H.P. of the target. A supernaturally large slug making a ranged touch attack with a blob of spit that had the potential to paralyze the creature it lands on, but which does 0 damage, does not have to wait for something else to wear down the C.H.P. of its PC opponents before its spittle can take effect. Where the ability of C.H.P. to allow a character to escape being touched by attacks prevents an attack from functioning, the DM will usually rule that C.H.P. doesn’t block it. Alternatively, the DM can set an amount of “C.H.P. Damage” an attack form like the super-slug spittle does – a good rule of thumb would be to set a level to the attack from (as if it were an arcane spell) and have it do d6 C.H.P. per “level.” Thus, as one-target paralysis tends to be a level two effect, the slug’s spittle might do 2d6 C.H.P. damage on a “hit.”