Over the course of my interactions with the fate community, I’ve repeatedly encountered the mantra that Stress and Consequences are not HP and should not be treated as such. The comparison can be split into two easily analysable bits:
- Stress is not HP, in that, unlike HP, Stress is a fuzzy abstracted thing not necessarily mapped 1:1 to the concrete state of a character’s health.
- Consequences are not HP, in that, unlike HP, they can affect the narrative, ability to act etc.
For a long time, I thought they’re contrasts against D&D, which supposedly treat HP as a measure of concrete medical facts about the character’s state. Because describing the system in contrast to D&D seems to be a big trend in the communities. But recently I’ve encountered a definition of HP in D&D, and found that it isn’t all that concrete, and largely shares many degrees of abstraction and fuzziness with Stress:
Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck. Creatures with more hit points are more difficult to kill. Those with fewer hit points are more fragile.
D&D 4e (predating release of the current edition of fate):
Over the course of a battle, you take damage from attacks. Hit points (hp) measure your ability to stand up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows, and stay on your feet throughout a battle. Hit points represent more than physical endurance. They represent your character’s skill, luck, and resolve—all the factors that combine to help you stay alive in a combat situation.
And even the way things were written initially:
Anyway, keep in mind that the OA/D&D systems were never meant to be combat simulators, and all wise DMs ignored the few portions that lead in that direction. Damage and hit points in any game are most probably based on game considerations that have nothing to do with actual human or animal frailties, if you will. […] In a game, details of such things are pretty well minor considerations, never to be dealt with in any sort of mechanic that is based on actuality, or else the whole reason for the game form, adventure on an onging basis with a heroic game persona, is lost.
Even our own tag wiki for hit-points states outright that they’re an abstraction.
So these descriptions of what HPs are seem to be invalidate my assumption that the former statement is based on overgeneralising HP from D&D to the understanding of RPGs in general or on assuming that the meaning of HP implies D&D HP.
But that, in turn, complicates my understanding of where the second statement originates from. If one isn’t to read ‘HP’ as ‘D&D HP’, then one can quickly discover that, for example, HP in GURPS or Health Boxes in Storyteller (WoD) do provide effects that affect the narrative, such as making it harder to perform certain actions, just as much if not more than Consequences can.
So it seems to me that neither the contrast to D&D, nor to the broader umbrella of the concept of HP in RPGs in general in its many implementations, can account for the origin of the mantra.
Thus I’d like to know: How did it originate? Was it a result of a misreading of the D&D definition at the time of publishing of fate-core, or is it based on comparison to HPs in a game where they simultaneously are concrete and yet don’t provide the effects that concrete state of being wounded would entail? Or is there perhaps another explanation for what the statement is meant to compare them to? Or is it a case of trying to oppose to a DeadUnicornTrope of HP?
Because to understand what ‘X is not Y’ actually means, one needs to understand what is meant by Y.