Tag Archives: dnd

Chainmail And Weapon Modifiers

In my last post I took a look at the Chainmail Man-to-Man tables and distilled each armor class down to a standard to-hit value. To spare you the pain of looking back over that rambling mess, here’s the table of to-hit values for every armor class, listed for 2d6 and d20 combat, as well as a straight percentage chance of hitting.

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

2d6

7

7

8

8

9

9

10

11

d20

10

11

13

13

14

15

18

19

d100

0.57

0.5

0.42

0.42

0.35

0.29

0.15

0.1

Recall that, in Chainmail, AC 9 represents an unarmored opponent, AC 8 represents leather armor, AC 7 a shield alone, AC 6 leather and shield, AC 5 chain mail, AC 4 chain and shield, AC 3 plate armor, and AC 2 plate and shield.

This table shouldn’t be too big of a shock. It follows more or less the progression suggested in the “Alternative Combat System” in Original D&D, with the caveat that plate is significantly better than chain mail. Now we’re going to move on to weapon modifiers. In Chainmail, every weapon has a certain chance to hit each armor class. In this distilled system, this is represented by a table of to-hit modifiers, where the weapon is compared against the armor class, and a certain bonus added to the to-hit roll. Below is the table used when the 2d6 combat system is used.

Reach

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

Dagger

1

1

0

0

0

0

-1

-2

-1

Hand Axe

1

0

0

0

-1

-1

-1

-1

-1

Mace

3

-1

-1

0

-1

1

1

3

3

Sword

4

0

-1

0

-1

1

0

0

0

Battle Axe

5

-1

-1

0

0

2

2

1

1

Morning Star

6

1

1

1

1

3

2

2

3

Flail

7

0

0

1

1

3

2

4

4

Spear

8

-1

-1

-1

-1

-1

-1

-1

-1

Polearm

9

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

Halbard

9

-1

-1

0

1

3

3

3

3

Two-Handed Sword

10

1

1

2

2

4

4

4

4

Mounted Lance

11

2

2

3

3

2

2

2

2

Pike

12

-1

-1

0

0

1

1

1

1

Any positive numbers are simple bonuses to be applied to the to-hit rolls, while negative numbers are penalties. Using this table, we get exactly the same combat odds as in the original Chainmail. It’s obvious from the above table that some weapons, especially bigger ones such as the two-handed sword and the mounted lance, are simply better than their counterparts. To get a feel for exactly how much bigger, in a language that D&D players are more likely to understand, here is the same table converted to the d20 system (following the to-hit numbers stated earlier in this post).

Reach

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

Dagger

1

3

2

0

0

-1

-3

-2

-1

Hand Axe

1

0

2

0

-3

-4

-3

-1

-1

Mace

3

-3

-2

0

-3

1

2

9

6

Sword

4

0

-2

0

-3

1

0

0

-1

Battle Axe

5

-3

-2

0

0

5

6

2

1

Morning Star

6

3

4

3

3

7

6

5

6

Flail

7

0

2

3

3

7

6

11

10

Spear

8

-3

-2

-2

-3

-4

-3

-1

-1

Polearm

9

3

4

6

3

5

2

2

1

Halbard

9

-3

-2

0

3

7

9

9

6

Two-Handed Sword

10

3

4

6

6

10

11

11

10

Mounted Lance

11

5

6

8

8

7

6

5

4

Pike

12

-3

-2

0

0

1

2

2

1

Now it should be a lot clearer exactly how much better than your standard weapons the two-handed sword, for example, is. To penetrate plate and shield a standard character with a two-handed sword needs to roll a 9 or higher on a d20.

You’ll notice also that weapons have a “reach” value (this is called “class” in Chainmail, but I think “reach” is more descriptive). This has the following effects:

  • In the first round of melee between two opponents, the attacker (being the one who moved into melee) strikes first unless the defender has a weapon whose reach is 2 greater than the attacker’s. This simulates the defender setting his spear or whatever against the charge.
  • In the second and each subsequent round of melee, the same person who struck first last round does so again, unless the opponent has a weapon whose reach is 2 lower than the first combatant’s. This simulates the added speed and maneuverability that having a lighter weapon gives you.
  • If combatant A’s weapon has a reach of anywhere from 3 lower than combatant B’s to 1 higher than combatant B’s, combatant A can parry his opponent’s attack, forcing him to subtract 2 from his to-hit roll, though combatant A can not make his next attack.
  • If combatant A’s weapon has a reach from 4 to 7 lower than combatant B, then combatant A can either choose to strike first or parry combatant B’s blow. If the parry is successful, combatant A still gets to make his counterattack.
  • If combatant A’s weapon has a reach of 8 lower than combatant B, then combatant A gets the first blow, plus he has the option of striking again or parrying.
  • Any combatant whose weapon’s reach is at least 4 lower than his opponent’s gets another blow in addition to the benefits listed above.

So now we have different weapons that feel completely different, so while a burly fighter wielding a two-handed sword might make mincemeat out of a scrawny magic-user with his dagger, the magic-user still gets two chances to strike the fighter before the fighter even makes his first attack roll. Under the Chainmail rules, weapons are all different, many weapons having certain advantages over others. We’ve given weapons character even though they all deal 1d6 damage with a successful hit.

This also goes a long way towards differentiating classes at lower levels. I’ve often heard the complaint that, at low levels, there is no difference in fighting capability between fighters, clerics, and magic-users. Now the difference is clear: fighters can use any and all weapons, from the lowly dagger to the mighty two-handed sword, while magic-users can only use a knife. Not only would these two classes have different results in combat, playing them would feel very different.

Now what of when PCs are fighting monstrous creatures that have no immediate analogue in the weapon vs. AC table? I think the best solution is to give each weapon a simple modifier to hit to be used when facing monstrous foes. This modifier would be used regardless of the opponent’s armor class, and would simply be a reflection of the overall effectiveness of a weapon. Or you could just leave that system the way it is, and give those magic-users a fighting chance against a dragon.

You may notice I haven’t covered ranged weapons. This is because ranged weapons suck, and the math involved sucks, and I haven’t had the drive or opportunity to do it yet. I also haven’t talked about combat progression yet. I’ll get to that as well, but again the math is a bit wonky, or at least it seems that way to me. As it is this post pretty much outlines an entire combat system that you can plop into a D&D game. I plan on using this in my next game, whenever that happens, either in a 2d6 or a d20 form.

Whew. That was a lot of post with very little fluff. Here are some pictures to make everybody chill.

My latest D&D-related acquisition.

My current sci-fi reading.

Lumpy Space Princess

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This Is Chainmail. This is D&D.

[WARNING: This post contains nerdery and numbers. Proceed at your own risk.]

About a year ago I wrote this analysis of the Chainmail mass combat rules. I have this on-again off-again project I’m working on, which basically amounts to a retroclone. Basically I’m looking to write a system that stays very true to the original rules as written, with cool things added on from later iterations of the game in a way that they don’t upset the original spirit. Yes, this is more or less a set of house rules, that I at one point tend to write up in some sort of organized book-like file, more for my own gratification and the people I game with than for public consumption.

This is pretty long and rambly, so here's a picture of what Google assures me is Harold's death as presented in the Bayeux Tapestry.

One of my primary concerns in the crafting of this system is adhering to the rules as presented in Chainmail since the original rules for Dungeons & Dragons mentioned explicitly many times that the rules were to be used in conjunction with Chainmail. For those unfamiliar with that game, there are basically three different levels of combat detailed in Chainmail. The “standard” game is played between armies with figures representing twenty men apiece. The “Man-to-Man” rules deal with skirmish-level combat, where each model is an individual combatant. Fantasy combat deals with contests between fantastic creatures, such as dragons and trolls and the like.

In the post I referenced a year ago, I dealt with the standard 20:1 rules. That post was more-or-less a distillation of the base system, but my thinking at the time was to use that, along with the “Fighting Capacity” designations for each class as detailed in the LBBs, to fight smaller-scale conflicts. I dedicated a great deal of time and effort into making a combat system that would closely follow the guidelines laid down in that post. However, in so doing, I gradually came to the realization that, for the typical combats that my players tend to get into, those rules are just not fun, and any alteration I made to them took them farther from the spirit of the original. I often found myself stuck between that which is true to Chainmail and that which is fun.

So I’m abandoning that train of thought for the time being to focus more on the Man-to-Man rules. Looking at these, it’s much closer to the standard D&D combat with which we’re all familiar. In fact, one could easily just pick up the rules wholesale and drop them into D&D and have a perfectly workable system. So why not just do that? There are two problems.

  • The rules assume all combatants are of equal skill, with the only difference being equipment. Keeping this standard would basically make leveling up a simple matter of better saves and better hit points for the fighter, with no improvement in fighting capability whatsoever.
  • All attacks are rolled on a table, where the attacker’s weapon is cross-referenced with the armor of the defender. This is wonderful for two humanoids in battle, but it is completely unworkable for creatures like dragons, or creatures wielding exotic gear, or bears.

OK, so that first problem can probably just be fixed by giving higher-level fighters some sort of bonus to their die rolls or whatever. I’m not dealing with it at the moment.

The second is more problematic, seeing as how the game is Dungeons & Dragons, and a combat system that doesn’t let you fight dragons doesn’t really gel. So how do we deal with it? One option is simply to assign those monsters the armor that most closely approximates their natural defenses. A troll, with its thick, rubbery hide, might be given a leather armor class, whereas a scaly dragon would get plate. I imagine most animals would be assigned leather or no armor under this system, and we can tack on additional rules, such as small creatures forcing the attacker to subtract 1 from his to-hit roll.

That might be one way to go, but then what happens when those creatures attack? Do we likewise assign them a weapon? What would a dragon’s bite be? The system as written has the effectiveness of certain weapons versus certain armor deeply entrenched, and it seems like trying to shoehorn a bunch of non-humanoids into the mix takes away from the original intent.

The alternative that I propose is to assume that the system as it stands represents not only a weapon’s inherent usefulness against a certain armor type, but a combatant’s knowledge of how exactly to use such weapon to its greatest advantage (and perhaps the defender’s ability to counter those weapons which are easily countered). If we give each armor type an armor class (say, between 9 and 2), we can give each armor class a certain percentage chance to hit, which is used universally. If the combat is between two humanoids, we then have a separate set of modifiers for each weapon against different types of armor. When humanoids fight fantastic creatures, there are no modifiers, representative of the fact that the combat tactics to fight, say, a dragon, are quite exotic to the warrior, so he can’t make use of any inherent advantages his weapon may have over the opponent. If this seems familiar, it’s because it is basically the system used in 1st edition AD&D.

To find the baseline probability to-hit for each armor class, I took the average of every weapon’s ability to hit every armor class, percentage-wise. The results are as follows:

Unarmored (AC 9): 57%
Leather (AC 8): 50%
Shield (AC 7): 42%
Leather & Shield (AC 6): 42%
Chainmail (AC 5): 35%
Chain & Shield (AC 4): 30%
Platemail (AC 3): 15%
Plate & Shield (AC 2): 10%

You’ll note that in the original rules wielding a shield alone is on average better than wearing leather armor with not shield. These percentages can be converted into target numbers. Here I converted these into the number one would need to roll on 2d6, since this is the type of roll used in Chainmail.

AC 9 and AC 8: 7
AC 7 and AC 6: 8
AC 5 and AC 4: 9
AC 3: 10
AC 2: 11

Since the range of results is fairly limited using only 2d6, there is not much variation in targets. These are really approximations of the true average odds, but I think they are the best approximations we can have. Here’s the same table with target numbers using the more familiar (and more granular) d20.

AC 9: 10
AC 8: 11
AC 7: 13
AC 6: 13
AC 5: 14
AC 4: 15
AC 3: 18
AC 2: 19

Basically, we have the standard combat table for 1st level characters, with the exception of AC 7 and the jump to plate mail.  I think this goes to show that Gygax and co. were either very careful to map out the combat table so that it fit with Chainmail, or very careful when writing Chainmail in the first place to have a steady progression. I believe the jump between chain & shield and plate mail is a product of the bell curve distribution of 2d6 versus the linear distribution of the d20, and likewise with the blip at AC 7.

So that’s everything you need to fight those fantastic creatures and bears and whatnot. Roll a die, find their AC, and see if you score a hit! Then, of course, roll 1d6 damage and deduct it from the opponent’s hit points. Rinse and repeat. Soon I’m going to write a post looking at the weapon modifiers, once I figure out how to make nice-looking tables. That’s where things get interesting.

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So Many Things, So Little Information

AUGUST 13th???

No, Cody, that’s just unacceptable.  That’s three weeks with absolutely no new exciting content!  But what to do?  Oh, whatever to do to rectify this grievance?

I can rant!  Hmm, let’s see, what’s pissing me off right now…

The Ground Zero Mosque!!!  Well, I mean, it itself is not pissing me off, the controversy is.  But I don’t really like getting all political.  Besides, Keith Olbermann already covered the issue much more eloquently than I ever could.

So if not that, then what?  Could I criticize some movie?  Could I heap praise upon a movie?  Could I make my own movie???

No.  I mean, I suppose I could, but I don’t like making comments on things I’ve seen once (or never, for that matter), and the only movies I’ve seen recently are The Lion King, Spaceballs, and 8 1/2, two of which I feel no need to comment on at the moment, and while watching the other I was too distracted by the fact that the dialogue did not sync up to the actors’ mouthing of the lines, only to find out later that this was in fact not my computer being its normal bellyaching self (Bellyaching?  Really?) but rather the practice of recording the dialogue in post-production, which was apparently quite common for Italian films of the era, especially those directed by Fellini.  Clearly, I am referring to Spaceballs here.

Yeah, this is some good stuff.  We’ve got some pretty sweet stream-of-consciousness going on here.  What next?  How about a picture? Yes!

Bam! Dylan!

Hmm, music?  Yeah, I recently came into possession of quite a few splendid albums, among them the above-mentioned’s Blonde on Blonde, The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute, Ida Maria’s Fortress ’round My Heart and Mumford & Sons splendid Sigh No More.  Currently, in order of preference they are rated, in my mind thusly:

  1. Blonde on Blonde
  2. Sigh No More
  3. Fortress ’round My Heart
  4. Frances The Mute

Although they are all fairly great for what it’s worth.  Plus I slipped in a numbered list there, and numbered lists always grab my attention, so maybe as a result of including a numbered list I will attract NEW READERS and some of them will be ELIGIBLE ATTRACTIVE WOMEN some of whom wouldn’t mind dating a DEEPLY FLAWED BUT SELF-AWARE ABOUT IT SEMI-ATTRACTIVE OVERLY-CRITICAL D&D-OBSESSED UNPOPULAR BLOGGER.

Why don’t we embed a video now? (Do you like that I included you, the reader, in my plans?  Respond in the comments!)

There’s some Mumford & Sons!  They’re British, and quite awesome.  And they have a dedicated banjo player.  And no dedicated drummer.  And they are awesome, but I believe I already made mention of that fact.

IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT AND I COULD BE AT A JERSEY SHORE PARTY BUT INSTEAD I AM WRITING SOMETHING THAT NOBODY WILL READ ON THE INTERNET.

Sorry, lost my mind for a moment.

So how ’bout that D&D? Well, currently, both books that compose the B/X series are sitting on the floor to the left of me, along with modules B2 and X1.  I really don’t know why.  It’s not like I’m going to be running anything other that 3.X any time soon.  Which is a shame, since I’ve been itching to run a game in which the PCs are colonists of a new world and go on spaghetti-westernesque adventure across the countryside, which I simply can’t fit into the established framework of searching for a lost city wherein they hope to find a large quantity of gold. (Yet…)

Also, ChicagoWiz has been posting some awesome concept fiction for a modern D&D game, which is just stimulating my imagination like a beast.  But noooooo, we have to continue following the antics of george THE forge and Obtaria and the fluxtuatingly-named halfling and the currently-absent-thanks-to-the-demands-of-study-abroad Charlg as they plod along with their Unicow and Mysterious Eggs Which They Don’t Know What They Do Yet But I Do And I’m Looking Forward To Them Finding Out.

Meh, maybe I’ll be fine running 3.X for a while.

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Red Boxalypse Now

[As a quick off-topic preamble, I am ridiculously proud of the title of this post.]

Mentzer's Basic D&D

While statistics tell me that apparently the best way to draw pageviews to my blog is to do nothing and let it stagnate in days-old posts, I’m afraid that that, in and of itself, is not a viable long-term approach to a successful blogging experience.  So I am forced to make comment on some recent events.  Namely, the upcoming release of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, scheduled for September 7.  And I would just like to comment and how much that description has sparked my imagination already.  Group adventure material?  Several different character races?  6 polyhedral dice?  (Well, at least they have a little bit of Gygaxian verbosity in there, considering, you know, dice are polyhedral kind of by definition.  But that’s just the mathematician in me talking.)

So yeah, Wizard$ of the Coa$t (man, it’s so much easier to do that with T$R) have recently decided that the only good products, or at least the only products which will sell, are old products.  Along with that Starter Set, which harkens back to the classic Basic Set as compiled by Frank Mentzer, they have plans to release a Castle Ravenloft product and have already put out a book bearing the title Tomb of Horrors.  On the latter I have little to say, aside from the fact that it apparently has absolutely nothing to do with its namesake.  Of the former, I will note that the original Ravenloft was one of the first, if not the first, published modules that was heavily based on a plot rather than a mere dungeon crawl, with actual developed characters and motivations and possibly even roleplaying (well, as much as is possible to cram into a 32-page or so module).  So the natural way to pay homage to this classic is of course to release Castle Ravenloft as a mother-effin’ board game.

Sometimes WotC can be seen on their widow’s walk gazing out into the sea for hours on end, praying that the point will return.

So that’s that for classic modules.  But what about this Red Box thing?  I personally have very mixed feelings about this.  Trollsmyth seems excited at the prospect that the new set might attract older gamers who will then be led down the rabbit hole into the OSR.  I’m not so sure.  One of the problems facing the OSR is the general lack of coherency.  Note that this isn’t a problem just in and of itself, it is actually a very good thing in many respects, but for purposes of attracting converts, it is.  There is no hub around which we all gather, but merely a hodge-podge collection of blogs and products with, very broadly speaking, similar philosophies with respect to gaming.  Some (such as myself) might stumble upon one of these sites and find themselves intrigued, clicking around until they are following [quick check-up on my OSR bookmarks folder] 34 blogs and playing, or at least wanting to play, one or two old school products themselves.  I believe the majority, however, will be overwhelmed with the shotgun approach the OSR has towards its public face.

WotC's "D&D"

WotC's "D&D"

Which is totally OK.  If it were any different, it would not be the OSR we all know and love.  Dragonsfoot is the closest thing we have to a communal hub, and that is fine.  That’s what we are.  It is very difficult to market the OSR to those who are not already in the know, and it will always be until we have some product that is fairly consistently on the shelves in gaming stores alongside D&D and World of Darkness.

On the other hand, it may be that we underestimate the kids these days.  While it is true that many of the people that make up the current OSR grew up with the Mentzer Red Box or earlier games, this is not a requirement to be a successful old school roleplayer.  Take me for example.  I am young (19), particularly by OSR standards.  Many in the OSR seem to believe that the only people who love old school products are old grognards who grew up with those games and only know better because they weren’t spoon-fed all the newfangled shite that WotC has been putting out.  But this is my Red Box.

The 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons “Adventure Game.”  And it sucked!  It came with about 8 pre-generated characters, and rules to bring them all the way up to level 2 (Level 2! In 3rd Edition!  That’s 14 encounters, by the book!)  There was one poster-sized foldout map that had a dungeon on one side, and a blank grid on the other.  There were six supplied “adventures,” which were all just monsters set up in certain places within the dungeon where the PCs could come and kill them.  There were no rules of character creation.  The grid-map and the little counters that came with it cemented in my mind for years that D&D should be played with miniatures on a grid, and combat could not possibly be played out any other way.

But I loved it!  There was a blank dungeon map that had all the same rooms as the fold-out version, and I would make copies of it and key it in so many times.  I created dungeons, towns, I believe I even did a tavern once, all with the exact same layout, just with different monsters.  When I later got the three core rulebooks, I simply added new monsters from the Monster Manual.  Never traps though.  For some reason, to this day, I am utterly incompetent when it comes to setting up traps.

But eventually, I grew out of this.  When reading through the books (and yes, I read through those books cover to cover, even the Skills and the Feats section, something for which I would never have the patience or time today), I was promised that I could do anything I wanted, that I could write adventures any way I wanted.  But for my ideas to work, I would often find that they required something very specific to be done with the rules, requiring either a very specific combination of powers or spells, or in the case of campaign building, specific races and classes that had to be included or the game would become “unbalanced.”  I grew increasingly frustrated with not being able to do what I wanted because of the rules.

Somewhere along the line, probably during one of my early forays into researching the history of the hobby (I am kind of obsessed with knowing the origins of everything I am interested in), something clicked, and I realized that just because there are rules, does not mean that I have to play by them.  This is the mindset that ultimately led me down the road into the OSR, which is filled with likeminded people who often change or completely ignore rules to fit their campaigns.  I became, as a result of my own personality and the constrictiveness (constriction?) of WotC’s rules, a 19-year-old grognard.

So I believe that, for people with a certain personality, they will find a way into RPGs.  If that way happens to be WotC’s latest tabletop MMORPG that happens to be called Dungeons & Dragons, that’s fine.  If they are the type of person who would prefer the old school, they will find the old school.  As long as the published D&D products inspire just enough to get people excited about endless possibilities, while simultaneously stifling that excitement with the rules as written, the OSR will have initiates.

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Noble Intentions

In the October 1986 issue of Dragon magazine (issue #114), one of the letters to the editor voices concerns about the upcoming second edition of the game and how it will make all previous products obsolete.  Here’s a little sample of Zeb Cook’s (lead designer for 2E) reply:

I know many players have made a sizable investment in the AD&D game and that we are asking you to change your investment. We are looking at ways of keeping your costs down.  Central to the current plan is to keep the core of the game down to two books, one of player’s information and one for the DM. . . The 2nd Edition is in no way an attempt to rob you.

Yeah, because if there’s one thing that 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons represents it’s devotion to the customers and the love of quality, thoroughly playtested and not-at-all-money-whoring product lines.

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This Day In History

Today in 1938, a man was born who would change the world, although most people do not recognize this fact.  Gary, you are missed.

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