No plan survives contact with the enemy, or, more rules tweaks for the B/X/LL game

(Some revisions in light of comments and further thoughts)

Class based damage.  I know it’s a fairly old idea but it seems like a good compromise between hair-splitting variable damage and vanilla d6 for everything.  The problem with variable damage, as I see it, is that unless you tweak things with to-hit bonuses and such you end up with most players choosing the most efficient weapon (typically long swords), and also it promotes the misconception that an attack roll is made when the character takes one swing/thrust at an enemy, in a system where an “attack” is an abstraction of 10 seconds or more of fighting.  But the argument that all weapons are deadly and so should do the same damage does not quite wash either, because while I think ten seconds’ worth of swords slashes and thrusts probably is equivalent to the same amount of time of axe-blows (presumably the sword a few more cuts in to balance the axe’s heavier hit), there is a real difference between daggers and polearms, or between clubs and two-handed swords that you should not sweep under the rug.  Moreover, weapon restrictions by class make more of an impact with variable damage.
So after discussing the options with my brother, who loves tinkering with weapons rules too, I’m tweaking things a little such that PCs do their “hit die” with most weapons (d4 for magic users, d8 for fighters, etc.), but shift one die lower with small/light weapons like clubs, throwing axes and javelins, and take the better of two dice with two-handed weapons.  Daggers will always do just d4, and all weapons have a minimum damage die of d4.  Missile weapons will still have flat damage ratings (d8 for long bows and cross bows, d6 for short bows, d4 for slings).  All weapon restrictions are lifted except that clerics still use blunt weapons only and halflings and dwarves can’t use polearms and long bows.  So go ahead and be a sword-weilding Magic User. Use whatever weapon you like.  Chose a morningstar over a sword and don’t worry that your Fighter is not helping the party as much as he should.

I think the main effect will be to make PCs do a little less damage, over all, than they could with variable damage as written but more difference is provided for than the flat d6 for everything.

Crossbows, and slings used with shields, will take a round to load, while long & short bows will halve their range “indoors”.

The whole thing is much simpler than the explanation above makes it look.

A related tweak will be to let all characters get one skill point at even levels to be spent on any skill thing (but not Backstab, which is still a Special Ability of of Thieves).  Also, since the niche of Thieves just got infringed on with the skill points, their HD is pushed up to d6 (which also makes them better combatants with the damage rule above).

Lastly I’ll keep the Shield-splintering rule as written.  Shields are thus greatly improved over B/X or LL. But I’ll add that two-handed weapons also add a +1 to hit (in addition to their better damage as given above), and fighting with two weapons gives a +1 to hit (and +1 AC if encumbrance is medium or lower, but still no second attack).  So two weapons or a two-handed weapon will generally be a good offensive choice but using a shield will potentially save your life!  As it should be.

Addendum: my brother also suggested that monsters with weapons should do their HD for damage (so kobolds do d4 and hobgoblins do d8+1), but those with 2 or more HD would just add a point per HD. Thus ogres would do d8+4 damage rather than d10. I’ll give that some thought.

Further addendum: Dropping the “light” weapon reduction. Daggers, torches, and javelins will do d4, all other weapons will do HD.  Two-handed weapons will take better of two dice. will

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 11:00 am  Comments (10)  
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  1. I like class-based (HD-based) damage too, and think it is a good solution. I think it’s more important to have classes do certain range of damage than worry about the weapons they are using, and then further complicate things with the weapons allowed by class, though. I figure if a fighter uses daggers instead of a two-handed sword, who’s to say he would not be just as likely to kill someone with them in a combat round? It can be assumed he is an expert with them, and capable of just as much death-dealing, in his own way. I think by reducing the smaller weapons by one die type you will still find yourself with the problem of people never choosing certain weapons, as there will still be “best” weapons for each class.

    • Well, the “smaller” weapons are either throwable (hatchets/daggers) or improvised (clubs/staves). So there is some incentive to choose a weapon that is appropriate to your tactics — otherwise handaxes would be king! More “the best weapon for the job” than “simply the best”. But of course I’ll see if and how it affects the players’ choices.
      But I do agree I’m sacrificing a little bit of the two motives (make weapon choice meaningful and keep it simple) to get a little of both effects.
      The “blunt” restriction on clerics is for tradition, for in-game reasons (they spill blood only when offering sacrifices to the gods), and to keep magic swords (and most magic weapons) away from the cleric. The other restriction on long weapons for shorties just makes sense to me.

      • Hmm, you’ve got a point on the throwability of small weapons being a factor. Off the top of my head, I’d be likely to reduce the die type damage when a weapon is thrown, but not when wielded in-hand to make the throwing an asset but not an uber-asset.

        • That’s a good idea too. A throwable weapon would be a little better than one you can’t throw, but then again you’ve thrown it away. I’m thinking there is not a very compelling reason to nerf staves and clubs either, for that matter.
          Still, a small weapon like a dagger really does seem inferior to a sword or spear, all other things being equal, or why would anyone bother with the expense and weight of swords?

  2. That all sounds pretty good except for the idea of adding +1 damage for monster HD

    Using your ogre example, the original d10 does an average of 5.5 damage. The HD method d8+4 does an average of 8.5 damage, or the equivalent of d16.

    An owlbear would get three d18 (d8+5) attacks, more than double its normal potential damage.

    • Well, it only applies to monsters that use weapons, but it does make them pretty deadly. Monsters with claws etc just do the normal listed amout.

      • Hmm maybe monsters should do d6+HD-1?

    • By the way an owl bear did d8/d8/d8

  3. Issue 66 of The Dragon had an article doing similar:

    1 handed weapons did d8/d6 for fighters d6/d4 for semi fighters and d4 for non fighters

    2 handed were d12/d10 for fighters d8/d6 for semi fighters and d4 for non fighters (staves still did d6)

    The article did d6 for most throw wpns for fighters, d4 for semi fighters and didnt allow non fighters to throw at all

    the die variable was dependent on weapon used. I like the system and used it for a while back in the day

    (semi fighters were clerics / thieves – non were m/u and illusionists)

  4. I like the idea of class based damage and have been considering it myself

    Kudos for a good article with some yummy food for thought.

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