From the halcyon days of 2008, and the workshop of 4th Edition, comes this testimonial to the Ever-Rising Statistical Treadmill as design principle:
For example, we strongly disliked the inability of 3rd Edition D&D’s negative-hit-point model to deal with combat at higher levels—once the monsters are reliably dealing 15 or 20 points of damage with each attack, the chance of a character going straight from “alive and kicking” to “time to go through his pockets for loose change” was exceedingly high; effectively, the -1 to -9 “dying” range was meaningless.Okay. You've already survived two or three blows that would have pasted a lesser character. You are still on your feet and alive. And you are irked that the next blow certainly would kill you dead. You feel entitled to more, somehow, as a hero.
Think of it this way instead:
- When, as a low level fighter, you are one wimpy blow away from permanent death - you are at -5 hit points or something, unable to move or do anything else.
- When, as a high level fighter, you are one mighty blow away from permanent death - you are on your feet, able to flee, distract, negotiate.
Let's take another failure of imagination:
Ask any high-level fighter whether he’d prefer the second-to-last attack from a monster to leave him at 1 hp or -1 hp; I’d put odds on unconsciousness, and how lame is that?Hold on. This preference has to be based on monsters who you know will rationally leave alone the fallen heroes to go after the living. In the world of Wizards D&D, are no creatures sadistic, hungry, bent on kidnapping, or mindlessly corrosive? Shouldn't you be just as worried about ending up on the floor in a dungeon fight as in a bar fight? Don't some monsters save their second-to-last attack to see what your head looks like when it pops like a coconut?
What's more, we are also imagining heroes who at 1 hp, or even 10 hp when fighting an average 20 damage dealer, irrationally fight on, instead of realizing they are near death and they need to go home NOW. If being unconscious is so great? Then fall down and fake it after the blow that turns you into a 1 hp fighter. The monster will go on to the next guy automatically and you probably won't even have to make a Bluff check.
Whatever system you're in, as I've mentioned before, approaching combat like a Rock'em Sock'em Robots toe-to-toe battle game is to blame for these absurdities. Fighting should be deadly, cruel, guileful - and it should not feel the same when you're battling orcs at level 1 as when you're battling giants at level 8.