Monday, December 9, 2019

All weapons do 1d6 damage, but bigger or smaller weapons adjust both attack rolls and AC: I call it "deep fried Holmes-style."

So a little while ago, I finally went and put together a reasonably complete version of this idea that's been banging around in my brain for a good long while. (Dragonsfoot link.) (Reddit link.)

The basic idea is, all melee weapons and most missile weapons deal 1d6 damage, just like in the blue box version of D&D from '77 (so-called "Holmes Basic"). It's yet another one of those cases where I find that I like the original D&D rule better than either of what developed in classic D&D or AD&D. And it got me to thinking: what if Moldvay had never put the optional variable weapon damage table into the pink box Basic Set in '81 (cribbed and simplified as it was from Supplement I: Greyhawk)?

The game's combat system might have gone in a different direction, and it turns out to be one that I like. Instead of differentiating weapons by damage die sizes, so that weapons only vary in their offensive capabilities, my alteration is to vary them with a modifier that applies to both attack rolls and AC-in-melee. For example, if you're unarmed, you still deal 1d6 damage, but you're −4 to hit and −4 to your melee AC. If you have a great sword, assuming you have room to swing it, you're +3 to hit and +3 to your melee AC.

The upshot is that the to-hit bonus and AC mod cancel each other out for identical weapons, but when weapons are different, the bigger ones are a big offensive and defensive advantage, as in real life. And it's no great increase in game complexity to implement this little change. Different to what people are used to, sure—but not if you're steeped in a white box/blue box culture, where the d6 damage die is already standard.

So as it turns out, much like making sure that ability scores are chiefly serving as prime requisites for classes and sources of XP adjustment, I think I'm going to be taking the next edition of Engines & Empires in this direction too. (After all, it was the need to make the weapon tables more historically accurate that prompted me to start working on this new edition in the first place.) When all is said and done, E&E will be I think more compatible with Holmes than Moldvay or Mentzer, which is different for me, but it's what I'm into these days.

So (to cite one example of a family of weapons), blades now have the following progression:
knives, −3/−3
daggers, −2/−2
short swords (cutlass, hanger, longknife, smallsword), −1/−1
normal swords (arming sword, broadsword, rapier), ±0/±0
bastard swords (when held in two hands), +1/+1 (falls to −1/−1 in one hand)
long swords (e.g. claymores), +2/+2
great swords (e.g. zweihänder), +3/+3 out in the open, or ±0/+0 down in a dungeon

This alteration to the rules produces fine granularity, and I can also vary the weapon modifier to apply to different armor types in a way that largely represents the (in)famous Chainmail/AD&D weapon vs. armor type table, without having to ever look up or cross-reference anything. In the next edition of E&E, it will be the case that:
• Spears retain their main advantages, throwability and setting vs. a charge
• Swords have social capital, ease of carrying/wearing, and are commonly enchanted
• Axes are +1 to hit low armor classes (9 to 6) because they're good at hewing through soft matter
• Maces are +1 to hit high armor classes (6 to 2) because they punch armor
• Clubs get no such advantage and are actually −1/−1 relative to similarly-sized weapons

And it all fits together really well and "just werks." I've run some Python simulations and some one-man playtests and everything looks great so far; and I look forward to running a full, live playtest game with actual players sometime soon.

* * *

There's a second alteration that I'm also leaning strongly towards implementing, but it has me a little more worried. The more I've thought about it, the more I've decided that I'd rather play out rounds in D&D combats without any kind of initiative mechanic. I'd keep initiative rolls at the start of encounters, because those are a great framework for organizing such mechanics as reaction rolls and the starts of chase scenes.

But in combat? A round is ten seconds. A lot can happen in ten seconds, sure, but on a scale that small I'm inclined to call everything simultaneous. That is to say, everybody gets to at least start taking actions before anything actually shakes out or results from them.

How it works is actually a lot like AD&D 2nd edition, but without the d10 roll for inish. There's a combat sequence, but it has to do with declaring and resolving actions, rather than classic D&D's famous "m-steps" (move, missiles, magic, melee, misc.).

It goes a little something like this:

1. The referee tips his hand by declaring what the monsters or enemy NPCs are doing, or appear to be doing.

2. The players decide what each character and follower in the party is doing, construct a list of orders/actions, and relay these to the DM through the caller.

3. The DM now executes all the actions one at a time, in whatever order makes the most sense, but resolves none of them. That is, movement happens, spells go off, and attacks are rolled, but no consequences yet.

4. The DM then resolves all actions as close to simultaneously as possible. Saving throws are rolled, spells take effect, damage and healing are rolled and applied to targets (with damage and healing to the same target cancelling out so that only the net number of HPs are gained or lost).

5. Back to step 1 until the fight is over.

It's straightforward, but not at all simple. The potential for absolute chaos is there, because actions are not ordered in any way beyond what the DM judges. Which on the one hand I like, because it's freeing, but on the other, has terribly high stakes in the game because it's combat.

Generally speaking, I hate 3rd edition style cyclic initiative. I would never go back to that. And for me, Basic D&D's swingy round-to-round back-and-forth was also starting to feel kind of artificial and predictable. This, I hope, injects a little danger back into the proceedings. No more streaks where the player characters steamroll encounter after encounter in the dungeon by setting up surprise, getting a free round, and then winning initiative on top of that and getting to take two allotments of actions in a row, often ending a fight before it starts without consequences.

With a system like the above, where actions are always effectively simultaneous, there is no such thing as a "safe" battle. Maybe this will make players think twice even before laying an ambush now.

But who knows? This one, I'll actually need time and players to test out.

5 comments:

  1. You should check out the combat system in the early editions of Traveller, it operates a lot like this.

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    1. Interesting! I don't actually know too much about Traveller's mechanics, since my sci-fi RPG growing up was "nothing, until Alternity came along, and then Alternity." And nowadays I'd probably just play White•Star.

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  2. I've been meaning to dig into your work with d6 weapons and such, but a lingering post-flu exhaustion and the upcoming end of the semester and it's accompanying stack of grading have made that difficult.

    The + to hit/+ to melee AC reminds me faintly of the old Weapon Class vs. Armor Class system that Metamorphosis Alpha tried. (Or some version of it, anyway)

    I've very much come over to the all-weapons-d6 side of things, although it gives me some feelings about the fighter and the appeal of playing one.

    I like what you've done here. I've jotted down some solutions, but this is far more elegant than anything I was working on.

    I don't have a group that will play OD&D, however, so for now this is entirely academic as far as I'm concerned.

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    1. >I've been meaning to dig into your work with d6 weapons and such, but a lingering post-flu exhaustion and the upcoming end of the semester and it's accompanying stack of grading have made that difficult.

      I hear that. I only finally finished grading lab reports and finals and late homework yesterday.

      >I've very much come over to the all-weapons-d6 side of things, although it gives me some feelings about the fighter and the appeal of playing one.

      I do give fighters other toys to play with in E&E. :) Since every class can use any equipment in my rules, fighters have their exclusive weapon proficiency replaced with the option to attack two targets at once at a penalty to hit that drops with leveling; and in place of their exclusive armor proficiency, they get a "second wind" of 2 hp/level that they can use during rest-turns (you know, those "every 6th turn in the dungeon you must rest" times).

      >I don't have a group that will play OD&D, however, so for now this is entirely academic as far as I'm concerned.

      At least until very recently, this *was* the joy of playing with total newbies, and of starting games in game shops where curious people who knew nothing D&D editions might just sit down and play whatever. This is less and less the case thanks to the rise of Mercerism.

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  3. >I do give fighters other toys to play with in E&E. :)

    This is true, I do remember the bells and whistles you give to fighters. I never really went that route, though I've considered making Necrotic Gnome's "B/X Fighter" approach my go-to. (It's basically build-a-bear fighter, if you're not familiar.)

    >This is less and less the case thanks to the rise of Mercerism.

    Haaaaaa, indeed. The exposure it gives to the hobby is nice, but the downside is that everyone wants to play 5e.

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