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