Abstract Monsters & Hit Locations

My homebrew heartbreaker Cinco is looking right at home with a non-granular "hits-to-kill" measure for opponents in violent encounters. Besides keeping things simple, it also redirects attention away from raw numbers, towards the fiction. Here are what "abstract monsters" look like now:

Bracket Hearts Damage
Minion (M) 1 ½
Grunt (G) 2 1
Elite (E) 4 2
Boss (B) 8 3

So, let's talk about dragons. A dragon could be one hulking mass with 8 hearts that deals 3 damage on a single landed hit. This definitely keeps it simple, but is that super interesting? Why not split its 8 hearts between 3 parts: its body and two clawed wings? Each wing functions as a "grunt", having 2 hearts and dealing 1 damage—easy enough to stand up against, but not really the brunt of the beast. The dragon's body, however, has 4 hearts and deals 2 damage. This means the dragon will bite and kill anyone who faces it head-on.

This is less about defining monsters as gamey abstractions than thinking about how to foreground their fiction, especially in terms of the characters and their relative positioning. If you want to fight a dragon, first of all, good luck. Second of all, how do you plan to do that? What approaches are more worthwhile but at the same time riskier? You can cut off a wing, but all you're ultimately going to do is keep it grounded. Maybe afterwards, you can take advantage of its immobility to climb and strike it from above where it can't bite you. The goal is to avoid thinking of them as damage buckets or puzzles with solutions, but instead as living things, dynamic in their mechanical representation as well as their diegetic "reality".

The hit location rule from the Blackmoor supplement actually provides a handy heuristic. Maybe a monster like a dragon has multiple parts whose total hearts number more than 8. However, if a dragon loses 8 hearts total on any subset of its parts (or if an essential part is targeted and hit), it's reasonable to rule that the dragon is defeated. This makes it easy to come up with new parts on the fly, responding to players' actions dynamically, rather than having to predetermine each slice of the dragon. This could probably apply to bog-standard D&D monsters too, in principle.

Another note: minions are definitionally monsters that fall on one hit, but all the other brackets can have "bloodied" conditions when they lose half their hearts. Maybe a dragon who loses 4 hearts gets a refresh on its breath weapon attack. This too is compatible with dynamic hit locations if you just keep count!


  1. i love that you call them hearts! ideal. also, hit locations having much more abstracted damage seems sooo much nicer than any instance of tracking individual hitpoints for each portion of a creatures body. i like that a part is innately capable of also dealing damage proportional to its weight, makes each part feel real and important. you could even give it a black hack style abilitiy check modifier per hit, though that could be overkill (and totally irrelevant depending on how checks work). that dynamic generation of parts is pretty interesting! i was wondering how you might communicate each "section" to the player apart from just abstracting each attack to the dragon's tail/head/feet into the body... maybe the dragon has 8 hits to distribute over its body similar to a FMC.B Fighter distributing Prowess? meaning they could put some hearts into their tale to deal an extra 1 hit attack or something? maybe too fiddly..

    this also reminds me a lot of CHOPWOOD OPERA by The Bottomless Sarcophagus, which has been my favourite hit location system so far. but this seems more adaptable and less fiddly in a very pleasing way!

    1. thank you!! to be clear, i don't think damage is necessarily proportional to weight---the monster brackets are useful for shorthand but are not the end-all-be-all!

      importantly, the sections are not necessarily predefined. the point is less to formally model a monster and its parts than to easily make way for fiction. if you approach a dragon from its side you'll get the wing, and if you approach it from the front you get the teeth.

      (also some missing context: monsters here don't make separate attack rolls, but player-characters just react to how monsters move and act towards them.)


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