Friday, November 21, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 11

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic
ALTERNATIVE COMBAT SYSTEM

“This system is based upon the defensive and offensive capabilities of the combatants: such things as speed, ferocity, and weaponry of the monster attacking are subsumed in the matrixes. There are two charts, one for men versus men or monsters and one for monsters (including kobolds, goblins, orcs, etc.) versus men.”
The ‘Alternative’ system for combat presented in Men & Magic quickly replaced the CHAINMAIL rules, and eventually became the standard for D&D games everywhere. It became adopted in later editions of D&D, and CHAINMAIL slowly faded into obscurity. Nevertheless, when I first began reading the Original Collector’s Edition of D&D, I felt as if I was missing something NOT having CHAINMAIL as a reference. So I got it, and I can see why this ‘alternative’ combat system became more popular and was adopted for D&D. It isn’t simply the fact that this system is readily available, being actually in print here in this volume; it’s more so that this approach, when considering character levels and monster hit dice, translates much better to D&D. One of these days I’ll devise a CHAINMAIL-D&D combat system, but such a successfully working model is easier said than done. Of particular note here for players of later editions is that YES, Armor Class works in descending order, that being ‘lower is better’. That’s the way D&D worked for years and years, and older players never questioned this nor considered it unusual.

“ATTACK MATRIX 1.: MEN ATTACKING”
On ATTACK MATRIX 1, we find Target Armor Class and Description, along with six columns detailing the roll required to hit each AC. The scope of this alternative system is no more than eight armor classes, and six fighting capabilities for characters (monsters are further divided into eight fighting capabilities). I did a fair bit of numbers crunching and extrapolation using these matrices, and in case you’re wondering the FC (fighting capability) translates to modifiers that increase in chunks across the six columns like so: 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13 (again, on a slightly different progression for monsters). Fighting-Men progress through these plateaus in three experience level increments. Many find fault with this uneven or lopsided progression, but we have to remember that this is the first such published combat system designed for D&D. In fact, I tinkered with this system quite a bit in my initial foray into original D&D, but have since gone back to the original FC and uneven progression for each class. The 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13 values are now etched in my games. Fighting Capability is simply a method I’ve devised to dispense with the attack tables altogether, but rather than be a hypocrite, I should also return to table use and not a derived short-cut formula. More on being a hypocrite follows…

“*Fighting-Men: Magic-Users advance in steps based on five levels/group (1-5, 6-10, etc.), and Clerics in steps based on four levels/group (1-4, 5-8, etc.). Normal men equal 1st level fighters.”
This passage defines where Magic-Users and Clerics fall upon ATTACK MATRIX 1. With the uneven progression across these columns, there is often overlap. The perceived melee advantage of Fighting-Men is nonexistent in many of these cases; yes they possess slightly better hit dice, and can use all weapons, but they aren’t the offensive juggernauts of later editions. In fact, all characters have an equal skill level in regard to chance to hit for experience level one through three and level six. Looking at this from a purist view, them’s the rules.

“All attacks which score hits do 1-6 points damage unless otherwise noted.”
Dagger, Arrow, Halberd, Mace…they all deal 1d6 damage. Gargoyle, Troll, Goblin, Wererats…all deal 1d6 damage (certain specific large monsters deal extra damage, as detailed in Monsters & Treasure). This generic system begins to give the reader the overall abstract feel of D&D combat. There is little in the way of tactical concerns, its simply an exchange of melee, each side essentially dealing from 1-6 damage if successful, and that’s it in a nutshell. I enjoy the 1d6 synergy in original D&D. Characters and monsters share 1d6 Hit Dice, attacks, for the most part, fall within that range, and Magic-User spells retain a certain level of potency lost in later editions. Players desirous of a less abstract, more tactical treatment or method of handling melee could employ CHAINMAIL to help sort out things such as positioning, weapon length, parrying or withholding attacks.

"All base scores to hit will be modified by magic armor and weaponry."
Speaking of being hypocritical, in my early efforts of ‘purism’ (if indeed such a term could EVER have been applied to D&D), I decided it more keeping with the spirit of the game if I used those original fighting capabilities of 1, 3, 6, 8, 10 and 13. BUT, being the hard-headed AD&D player I was, I decided to use a ‘fluid AC’ system. I allowed characters to have an AC lower than 2, or to wear Leather & Shield, but still claim an AC of 5 due to magic. In fact, as stated above, there are EIGHT Armor Classes (each defined by the type of armor a character wears, or an equivalent value based on a monster’s natural defenses), these are AC 9 through AC 2. Thus, there is only one way for a character to achieve the best AC, and that is to wear Plate Armor & Shield and be considered AC 2. In the abstract spirit of the alternative combat system, plate and shield equals AC 2, AND AC 2 equals plate and shield. So how then does magic armor or weaponry affect melee? Simply by either adding to or subtracting from the d20 roll, and then cross-referencing the adjusted result in one of the attack matrices. You can play like I have in the past, doing away with steps of adding or subtracting or even using a table at all, and still end up with the exact same chances to hit, BUT when I am finally finished re-reading these volumes and considering my interpretations, you can be sure that I am going to consider doing away with my house rules for ‘fluid AC’ and the table-less ‘derived attack formula’. Just because.

"Missile hits will be scored using the above tables at long range and decreasing Armor Class by 1 at medium and 2 at short range."
Another bit I missed in my initial read of the rules. Missiles are quite potent in D&D! That is, as long as we interpret 'decreasing Armor Class' as reducing its effectiveness. It seems logical that closer targets would be easier to hit with a missile weapon. So, at long range, the number required to hit is unmodified. At medium range the roll is at +1, and at short range the roll is at +2. In original D&D terms, these are major modifiers. Fighting-Men, with their ability to use all weapons (and the only class capable of wielding bows or crossbows) have a significant advantage if they are able to employ a missile weapon in combat. Sure, a Magic-User could throw a dagger here and there, but the range is surely much smaller. The definition of long, medium and short range is not clear in this volume, but one can refer to CHAINMAIL for a guide if so desired.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

10 comments:

David said...

I enjoy the 1d6 synergy in original D&D.

This is something I have issues with. I have a hard time seeing the purpose of buying anything more expensive than picking up a stick outside, if the stick does the same damage as a poleax. Why even get a stick? Just punch people, a level 1 magic user can kill them just as easily has a level 1 fighting-man with greatsword.

Why then would you bother spending money on anything other than daggers and cheap shortbows? There's no mechanical difference between the two!

Aside from that, random Mr. Joe Adventurer at level 1 almost invariably has enough money to buy a suit of full plate and shield. What's left to get? It's weird to me how OD&D doesn't have the same "kill and loot for equipment" sort of vibe as later editions.

It's not a flaw, per se, but it's just an observation.

Sham aka Dave said...

These are examples of the questions and concerns that may have been perceived as 'holes' in the alternative combat system once OD&D was published. I think it was assumed that players would rely more on CHAINMAIL than they actually did once D&D grew in popularity.

The alternative combat system is abstract to a fault, if you allow it to be. While there are no printed rules in these volumes for taking melee above and beyond weapons, damage, armor and hit points; there is nothing here saying you cannot change, alter or enhance combat to your liking.

The synergy I am referring to in this post is one of balance, it is not one of tactical realism.

I don't think your issue is with the synergy, it is with the abstract nature of OD&D combat.

In my game, Chain and Plate are much more expensive than in the equipment guide.

Again I would refer you to Supplement 1, Greyhawk if you wish to add greater detail to melee.

Steve Zieser said...

I also really like the d6 damage of OD&D. Though, I feel using the AC adjustments for weapons from Greyhawk actually helps make weapon choices more valid with the d6's.

Have you looked at "Spellcraft & Swordplay" yet? It is a very good take on "What if Chainmail was D&D?" and, aside from the Thief class, can be played with nothing but d6's.

Sham aka Dave said...

Very good point, Steve. That table was imported from CHAINMAIL, and if you are willing to implement that system, you instantly have weapon choices making a difference (not in damage, but in modifiers to hit).

I have not checked out Spellcraft & Swordplay, but it sounds interesting. I've tried before to incorporate CHAINMAIL, with little success (I can enver get past the Monsters AC bit).

For a world of nothing but armored opponents, it's perfect. But you can't tell me that all Griffons (AC 3) have the properties of Plate Mail, for example.

Rod said...

I wonder what the original players would say about the price of armor in OD&D. Specifically -- given that it's still close enough to wargame culture to say "wargame" on the box, and that climbing the AC chart isn't a goal in itself -- I hypothesize that your choice of armor, combined with the (appealingly concise) encumbrance rules, was more about positioning yourself as a light, medium or heavy infantry guy. A party of all plate mail-armored fighters would be unable to close with (or escape from!) missile skirmishers on foot, for example.

Sham aka Dave said...

Rod: That's an interesting point. Once you're in the dungeon though, plate and shield is best...if it's a life or death situation, drop something in order to run. Battlefield tactics involving charges, cavalry, pike hedgehogs, shield walls, skirmishing, long bows, etc. are all viable concerns when considering move rate outdoors. Underground not so much. Still, I like the line of thought! Something could be home brewed from this (besides move rates) giving a benefit in certain circumstances to Leather vs. Chain vs. Plate.

Rod said...

Hm, chain and plate guys having a penalty to using missile weapons might be an angle for that sort of thing. Also, since I didn't think to say it before, keep up the good work!

Sham aka Dave said...

This is why I think that sharing my personal 'take' on things is worthwhile. Rod is right, fron a game-ism point of view. From here I can only say do what works for you, if you need to spice things up, go for it.

Fight On! and all that.

Rob Dean said...

To add to this long ago discussion, permit me to note that in my 4th printing of Men and Magic, the explicit rule about attacks doing 1d6 of damage was not yet included. I recently read through the LBBs carefully, and eventually concluded that rule was deducible...but it was not there! This made things a little interesting for the brief time we played before obtaining Greyhawk.

Sham aka Dave said...

Ah! Great comment, Rob. That is great to know. Does your 4th printing have the Magic Arrows entry found in Vol. 2 p. 31 that helps to possibly deduce a damage range?

To paraphrase:

"...have a +1 chance of hitting...and do additional damage...does from 2-7 points of damage..."

Also I think it might be easy under the circumstances to assume that there is no "damage" per se; rather that each PC or Monster has a number of Hits (or HP), this total representing the actual number of actual "hits" which might be sustained.

In other words, all successful attacks remove a single Hit from the target's total number.

Certain Large or particularly powerful Monsters might deal 2 or 3 Hits with a single attack, and Magic Weapons would still add their "+" to this number as well, when appropriate.



Anyway, thanks for posting...the notion of Hits as just Hits and nothing more has really made me consider a lot of different approaches.