Thursday, May 27, 2010

Radically Faster Combat: Auto-Hits

Ever get tired of misses in combat?

I mean, it’s bad enough when a player FINALLY gets that solid 19 or 20 needed, but rolls a 1 or 2 for damage. What about the out-right “whiffs?” Especially low-level characters against medium to good armor class foes, the swing-and-miss, swing-and-miss can be quite tedious.

Does combat need to be drawn out and tiresome?

Now I’m not talking about post-WotC D&D…we all know that combat is what D20 and its successors are all about (at least rules/mechanics-wise). I’m talking about the antiquated versions of D&D that old geezers like myself play. You know: those editions where combat is fairly abstract, and where DMs are trying to challenge the player not the stat block?

Okay…just so long as we’re on the same page.
; )

SO, let’s talk about combat.

1) What the hell is combat anyway? Welp, it is one method of overcoming obstacles, specifically opponent NPCs or “monsters.” It’s a way to get adrenaline pumping. It’s a way for the fighter class to shine and show off their talents (hitting and taking hits). It’s a time for wizards to use some of their flashier spells (at least once or twice). It is ONE arena that showcases the danger inherent in adventuring, i.e. “mortal combat.” It’s a method by which the DM can test player characters and deplete their resources. It’s also a place for DMs to show-case cool monster bad-assery. It is a way of boosting characters’ XP totals.

Am I leaving anything out here? Probably…but for right now, let’s call this a good enough analysis for my purposes. This is what I use combat for.

2) Can any of these things stated purposes be accomplished without combat? Some of ‘em. DMs can still throw obstacles at players in the form of tricks, traps, sticky situations and moral dilemmas. These can make characters sweat (adrenaline), give wizards a chance to show-case spells, and even provide “mortal danger.” Treasure rewards give more XP than combat and there are other ways for DMs to deplete resources, time and harrying traps being the Big Two. However, monster combat DOES add variety (even the fable Tomb of Horrors had a couple-three monster encounters), and nothing else gives the fighter class their turn in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, the MORE combat you throw into your games, the more the game DOES become about fighters…to the point that thieves are considered “leather-clad swashbucklers” and magic-users nothing more than artillery pieces. So while combat is necessary, I think it may need to be DE-emphasized…by whatever means necessary!

3) Combat: The System. In its most basic form, combat consists of checking initiative, rolling to hit, rolling to damage, and depleting hit points…until one party dies or morale breaks. And yet it still takes a looooong, long time. Add in special attacks requiring saving throws (including spells), and it extends even longer. Sucking more time away from “adventuring.”

4) Combat: The End Result. By the time combat gets resolved, we should have one or more of a few possible results:

- The player characters are all dead or fled.
- The monsters are all dead or fled.
- The surviving PCs have some wounds.
- The surviving monsters (if any) have some wounds.
- XP is gained.
- Players have their hearts pumping due to the highs and lows of combat (oh! I rolled high! No! I rolled low! Yowza! He/she/it missed a saving throw! Etc.).


Cut out "to hit" rolls.

I suppose we can cut out rolling for initiative as well (at least between rounds), but I suspect some folks already do that and really, losing one six-sided dice roll per round doesn't speed things up nearly as much as removing a bunch of D20 rolls AND the extending length of combat due to “whiffing.”

Check this out:

What are hit points? An abstract resources that determines whether a character (PC or monster/NPC) can continue to function. In character classes, it is assumed this resource includes luck, stamina, fitness, and agility, as well as resistance to pain, bone and muscle strength, and overall health. In MONSTERS (including the Normal Human of basic play), hit points represent absolute health/damage that can be sustained prior to collapse. A 4th level hero has 20 hit points because you have to tire him out before you run him through. A black bear has 20 hit points ‘cause you stab him A LOT, before he takes the hint and dies.

What is a damage roll? A random depletion of the hit point resource. A high roll indicates a stronger or more precise hit, bringing an enemy closer to death; a lower roll indicates the opposite.

Now let me ask two questions:

Does a bear dodge?

Does a hero NOT expend energy ducking a blow or taking it on his shield?

To both of these questions, I call the answer a resounding NO.

Oh, maybe in your game world an ogre will take the time to block a sword with a tree branch. Not in mine, baby. Sentient creatures that have the same luck, agility, fitness, etc. of a Player Character already have that factored into their hit points…either with a greater hit dice (say a hobgoblin versus an orc), or with a great hit point roll (physically one stone giant may be shrimpier than another, but if he has more hit points then HE IS A BETTER FIGHTER).

So why do we need to roll to hit at all? Why not just roll damage for every attack?

[we’ll get to armor and armor class in a moment]

If I roll a 1 for my damage roll, it means I got a glancing blow (bear) or simply forced my opponent to duck (hero). If I roll a 3 I get a solid laceration (bear) or a deep scratch (hero). If I roll a 6, I score a telling blow against my opponent, a deep thrust to the grizzly or a knock-down blow to the hero…possibly setting up a kill shot with my next attack.

When you remove to hit rolls from combat you remove a HELLUVA’ LOT of frustration. Players don’t miss. They get highs and lows based on good and bad damage rolls (both for and against ‘em). DMs get to describe combat based on damage rolled, rather than based on some weird interpretation of “to hit” roll plus damage roll. Combats go faster as monsters are whittled down every single round. Combat becomes de-emphasized because less encounters will be needed to deplete PC resources, and players will have an even healthier respect for the dangers of mortal combat.

“But wizards will die faster!”

No, wizards will die just about as fast. An AC of 8 or 9 and D4 hit dice for hit points means wizards are kindling for the fire anyway, should they get involved in combat. An ogre throws a spear at a wizard that exposes himself? The wizard’s LEVEL (which equals hit points…from luck, agility, awareness, etc.) will be more of a determining factor of whether or not he gets taken down by the attack, as even high level magic-user’s generally have a poor armor class. Well, level AND the randomness of the damage roll (does the spear scratch by his check or impale him through his skinny chest?).

And speaking of wizards…their spells do damage without attack rolls, why should warriors' weapons be any different?


Here’s the “what” about armor: You know all those little attack matrices you have in the various Old School D&D rule books (OD&D, B/X, AD&D, BECMI)? Well, you’re still going to have them. However, instead of showing your “chance to hit,” they show the type of dice you roll for damage.

Because after all, in MY game world, all weapons do the same amount of damage.

Now actually, I’m only suggesting this for B/X and possibly OD&D not AD&D with its different damage dice by weapon and different damage dice depending on monster size. But for B/X it’s fairly simple…I already have some mock-up tables that I want to tweak ever-so-slightly to make sure there’s actual value in the different armor types. Once that’s finished, I’ll upload a .pdf for interested folks to download.

+++EDIT: Here it is.+++

Right now, the color coded chart sets up damage in the following increments: D4, D6, or D8 depending on the character’s class/level versus AC. I am considering also adding D10 or D2 at the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum. The damage dice rolled will also SHIFT based on a variety of factors:

- Daggers shift the dice type down one (so D6 will do D4, for example)
- Two-handed weapons wielded by characters with 13+ strength shift the dice type up one (so D6 becomes D8)
- Crossbows shift damage +1 shift up (so D4 becomes D6, and D6 becomes D8, for example)
- Strength shifts Dice type instead of adding bonus damage. Right now, I am considering: 8 or less -1 shift; 13-15 +1 shift; 16-18 +2 shift
- Dexterity bonuses adjust an opponent’s effective AC, possibly shifting damage dice but not always.
- A magic weapon will shift damage dice based on its “+s” (a +2 weapon would shift D6 to D10, for example)
- No damage dice can be adjusted above D12 without magic. Even with magic, no damage dice can be adjusted above D20.
- A girdle of giant strength or thief backstab still doubles the result of the damage dice.

So far, I like how this is looking. The biggest challenge is getting it to work with normal monster combat. Disposing of character attack rolls is easy enough, but many monsters have multiple attacks making them capable of doing terrific damage should they all auto-hit. Likewise, monsters with special attacks are a bit of a mixed bag. Some monsters – say, the pit viper, for example – offers what amounts to TWO saving throws:

- Does the pit viper hit? (save based on character AC)
- Does the poison kill? (save based on character class/level)

Other monsters only offer ONE save versus their special attack:

- Does the vampire hit? (save based on AC or auto-level drain)
- Does the medusa petrify? (no attack, save based on class/level)

I’m a pretty lazy person, so I don’t want to completely re-write every monster in the B/X books, If I can’t figure out a quick and expedited way to do the monsters I’ll either chuck the whole idea, or make the “auto-hit” tables for PCs and NPC weapon-users only.

So whadya’ think? Am I totally crazy?

[for those that are curious, the current PC attack table looks like this: I converted all attack rolls into their % chance to hit based on class/level versus armor class. All % chances of 25% or less convert to D4 for their damage dice. All % chances of 30-70% convert to D6, and all in the 75-95% convert to D8, though I’m strongly considering converting 95s (hit rolls of “2”) to D10. These %s are based on the % chance of acquiring a particular Strength score, and its attendant shift in damage dice. For example, a character has a 26% chance (56 in 214) of rolling 8 or less on 3D6, 48% chance of 9-12, 21% of 13-15, and 5% of 16-18. If all weapons do D6 damage standard than 26% of normal folks would only roll D4, folks in the 27-74 percentile would roll D6, and folks in the 76-100 percentile would roll D8 (or better). Okay, maybe I’m not THAT lazy...]


  1. I have forgotten, does B/X have saving throws? If so would those go away too? In this context, I think of the to-hit roll as sort-of saving throw vs physical damage.

    No, I wouldn't say you're crazy, but I'm not sure about this idea. I think it would really push casting folks to the far back of the bus, since once the limited spells are gone they're much more vulnerable to auto hits, given the restrictions on armor. Now, that's not to say they should be fighting up close anyway, but it happens with depressing regularity.

  2. Good stuff, now the veterans seem able at what they do, but wary of unnecessary combat - which works for me.

  3. I really like the philosophy behind this. I like it a lot. One question though. Fighters already often feel left behind by the way other classes get special abilities; one advantage they have is a better chance to hit, so is this not weakening them further?

  4. Thats a great, unique way of looking at combat. I ran a game once where hits were automatic and the only way to avoid damage was to dodge or parry. Armor was used to possibly stop any damage from an unblocked/unparried blow. Congrats on the big 500!

  5. Interesting idea though I think I'd go with damage as DR. Say leather -1, chain -2, plate -3, and shield -1.

  6. I don’t know if you’re crazy or not, but the idea isn’t. :) IMO, there still hasn’t been enough real thought about what abstract combat can do. I have several random thoughts;

    I’m always supportive of reducing the number of rolls. I’m one of those weird gamers who isn’t enthralled by dice. I recently started playing around with the converse of this idea: eliminating the damage roll, by encoding that into the combat roll. I posted this idea here: []. But I can see the utility of doing it your way as well. I don’t really like the full complement of polyhedrals, so I wouldn’t be crazy about the die-stepping idea. But that’s just me.

    The Eldritch RPG uses something like this idea. Instead of rolling to hit, you roll “Potential Damage” and the target then tries to cushion the blow with his hit points. In that game, you have multiple hit point pools representing dodging, parrying, and exhaustion, so the target chooses how he cushions the blow. Once he can’t cover the damage, he’s out. It’s an interesting idea, but yours seems much simpler. Still, you might want to look at it for comparison if nothing else.

    In my long-delayed S&S game (which doesn’t use the D&D system at all, I should add), I made this idea of yours very explicit: every roll of the dice means that SOMETHING happens mechanically. Somebody wins and somebody loses. You might narrate it as missing, but the clock is running out the whole combat. Several other games do the same sort of thing, but I must admit that I hadn’t seen them when I had that idea so I still feel somewhat proud of it.

  7. Very World of Warcraft!

    Damage per Second (DPS) now becomes damage per round (DPR).

  8. And speaking of wizards…their spells do damage without attack rolls, why should warriors' weapons be any different?

    Because spells are finite, and a fighter's melee attack is not?

  9. What about missile weapons? I can buy the notion of losing hit points to represent the energy lost when parrying, dodging, whatever, but missile combat is different. You don't generally dodge missiles. How does this system handle the possibility of a bad shot with an arrow or bolt that just misses its mark entirely?

    This line of thinking reminds me of how combat works in Fudge: melee combat is resolved by what is essentially an opposed skill check between combatants, while ranged combat is based entirely on range, which sets the difficulty for the shooter's skill check. Perhaps a saving throw or some similar mechanic could be employed?

  10. Re ranged weapons:

    Low damage could represent the fear caused by an arrow whistling by your head.

    Or maybe missile weapons can 'pin down' their opponents even if they miss (ie their opponents are unable to move, miss their strike etc)

    Or maybe the attacker rolls to see how many arrowe etc they use to get that hit. If they run out, no hit. This would also mean that characters were no longer shooting once per minute, which some people find unrealistic.

  11. I like this very much. :)

    I've been moving an increasing number of things in our game over to a dice step mechanic that's very similar to what you've outlined. The idea of removing to-hit rolls and just rolling damage is perfect for making things move along faster and would be particularly good for gaming via Skype or play-by-post.


  12. re: Ranged Combat

    We're running a Weird West game with OD&D + B/X rules right now. It's hard to imagine people getting *SHOT* with a rifle and continuing to happily adventure... and that really shouldn't be much different from being shot with an arrow. Unless the attack reduces someone to 1 or less hit points we're going with "reducing hit points = getting tired and/or luck is running out".

  13. Multiple Attacks:

    This is an easy fix: Roll multiple dice and choose the best one. For each max roll beyond the first, add +1 to the result.

    Armour as Damage reduction gets back to "missing" if you roll less damage than the DR. But consider making Shields, Dex or Helmets etc Give MORE HP.

    Ie, a Helmet give +1hp per level, a shield might give +1hp per level AND shift the damage die.

    Come to think of it, the Helmet giving HP idea is good even in my system...

  14. Oh: And special attacks - either treat it as a spell, or if its triggered by a specific event (like a scorpian hitting with two claws) then make it based on rolling specific numbers.

    Ie if a scorpian gets two attacks, and they both come up with the same number (see above post) then an extra damage die for the tail is rolled. Yes mathematically this means the wizard with no armour (while taking more damage) is less likely to get snagged and hit with a tail than the warrior in plate, consider it the benefit of being a lightly armoured skirmisher.

  15. I Like this idea a lot.

    Another option to consider... Use Armor class as a damage 'absorb'. Have a high dex? Take away one point of damage from every attack. Wearing Chainmail? Take away two points from every attack.

    This will let you use a wider spectrum of dice and help distinguish the fighter from other classes. It may go against the idea that you will deal damage every round but it would make the system much simpler.

  16. Great idea Zzarchov.

    HP bonus per level from wearing armor would preserve the spirit of dealing damage every round and still allow a wide range of dice to be used.

    This system could really work...

  17. @ Everyone: Check out the new .pdf download...hopefully it will answer some of these questions.

    MEANWHILE: I'll try to answer folks individually right now!
    ; )

    @ Derek: B/X has saves...they don't go away. Characters attacked by a monster need to make a save to see if it's special attack takes effect. The save is their opportunity to avoid the luck, skill, and/or awareness.

    However, only one save is made per round per attack by a monster. If a carrion crawler attacks, the character makes 1 save vs. paralysis, not 8. Make it you "keep rolling till the odds kill you."

    @ Kelvin: damage is still based on class & level...fighters at high levels have a much bigger damage shift than other characters. Check out the attack matrix. : )

    @ Mhensley: I considered something like this, but then I realized it was already taken into account by the matrices. Against non-experienced adventurers, armor is going to make a big difference...against more savvy veterans, hit points are going to prove the main defense against a foe that knows the chinks in one's armor.

    @ Sax Violence: How dare you!
    ; )

    I'm just making room for the type of adventuring you CAN'T do in WoW, joker!

    @ Alan: I though spells were finite because of their greater power/damage potential. A 7D6 fireball is still a vicious piece of work!

    @ Everyone (re Ranged Combat): The bottom line still stands: why make an attack roll AND a damage roll?

    A low missile damage roll could mean the target's a little winded from ducking, or catching the bolt on his/her shield, or gets a grazing scatch, or gets an arrow that passes through the flesh without hitting a bone or artery or severing a muscle. High damage rolls are bleeders, gougers, pinners, or a sling stone that strikes between the eyes causing a concussion. Mark off a round of ammunition.

    @ Zzarchov (did I spell that right?): I've blogged my thoughts on saving throws before. They represent a character's ability to save his bacon from the effect.

    Monsters have "special effects" to be used...that's their purpose (kind of like the bomb's purpose is to explode). Just let the effect go more than once per round per monster per target. The character gets a save, just like normal, and if he/she makes it their bacon is saved. Totally easy.

    For effects that don't normally have saves (like a purple worm's swallow or a yeti's hug attack), give 'em a roll versus paralysis, or require the creature to roll max damage. I wouldn't translate special abilities into straight damage.

  18. I still think you'd have more luck using armor as a DR. A low level fighter versus a low level fighter, armor is going to be a big deal as neither has the strength to really go through it.

    You said that a High Level fighter will know the chinks to go through, but a high level fighter will also know how to use the armor better to protect those very same chinks.

    High level versus low level you also are fine as the High Level fighter's ability to hit the chinks is represented by their better damage roll.

    This also solves the problem with poison from scorpions and such, if the attack gets a point of damage through the character's armor and do X damage still, then it is a good enough hit for the poison to hit the person and need to be saved against. If not, it doesn't.

    For ranged combat you could also switch it. Instead of doing a damage roll you do a To Hit roll. Particularly high to hit rolls give a modifer to the set damage. So like an arrow does 2 damage, but if for every 3 points you succeed on the to hit roll with, the multiplier gets increased. Of course, then you're back at needing to know a Defense Difficulty. Your way probably works better for that.

  19. @ A.L.: armor can only do so much. Against a determined, savvy foe (like a high level character) the only thing that's going to save you is your own luck and experience (i.e. hit points). A 10th level fighter wearing plate mail is going to have the same high degree of protection against inexperienced opponents (Normal Men and 1st level fighters) that ANYONE wearing plate mail will is still effective.

    And against a higher level character (say another 10th level fighter) it will still offer a degree of protection. The 10th level fighter still "rolls for damage;" if he rolls a "1" than your experienced character blocked the blow (i.e. the experienced opponent flubbed or you used a cagey tactic to catch his blow on your vambrace or whatever). You still take 1 point of damage...from impact, from fatigue, from the stress of the combat...but you don't take 6 or 8 or 10 points. If your opponent HAD rolled that high damage roll, it would mean YOU flubbed up (as even high level characters sometimes do), or through a poor stroke of luck he got a "critical hit" of some sort.

    I think the principal works just as well for ranged combat. We just may need to adjust our thinking a bit.

  20. I’d written up a system like this before, but I never got to playtest it. I did armor as DR. The numbers were set up so that the “can’t ever penetrate it's armor” problem would be rare. (It was unlikely for DR to exceed 5.) Fighters did d6+1 damage and mages did d6-1. So, a mage could “miss” even an unarmored foe. I was, however, trying to stick to d6 at the time.

  21. Personally, I'm with JB and don't like Armour as Damage reduction in D&D. It goes against the whole point of Hit Points as an abstract measure of lots of things other than health and of damage incorporating many things beyond hurting someone.

    OTOH, Armour as DR works in soemthing like Runequest because combat is not abstract, Hit Points only represent health, and damage only represetns getting poked with soemthing in that game.

  22. OK: I thought a lot more about this and like it even more. My thoughts got too involved to put in a comment, so I had to post them on my blog. They are here:

  23. But rolling dice is fun! Really.

    Combat ain't that slow(with B/OD&D). Combat becomes slow(er) as player decision points increase (multiple attacks, endless modifiers to add up, variable weapon damage, numerous feats/skills to apply, multiple actions per round, initiative sequencing, etc). And so reducing those is were I believe the best/biggest faster play payoff resides.

    Still, it's a neat system. Would be esp good for large/mass combat.

    DR is fine cause with this system cause the hit point abstraction includes to-hit and armor protection. Personally find charts are slower than something like DR.

    Since ranged combat is so different and doesn't abstract nicely like melee requiring to-hits for ranged attacks only seems like nice way to handle that.

    I do like how bad/dangerous this makes all combat. No matter what/how wimpy opponents are you are taking at least 1hp/rnd. Also, fighting 5 kolbolds 5hp/rnd is pretty deadly.

  24. @ Matthew: checked out your blog (thanks for the link!) and posted my comments there.

    @ Norm: And shouldn't fighting 5 kobolds (or 5 orcs or 5 whatever) be a nasty proposition? Even for high level characters? 'Cause they can swarm your ass and knock you down and pin you and poke daggers in your eye-holes?

    This is why knights of old rode horses against the peasant footmen.

    Why is ranged combat such a deal-breaker for folks? I look at it this way: if ranged combat is a credible threat, than it should do damage (at least 1 point) every round. Otherwise, it's just set dressing ("oh the goblins rain arrows around you, but as long as you are behind the rocks you're fine...they're terrible shots"). If there's a chance to be hit, roll damage because the PC (or monster) is either expending energy evading OR they are blithely advancing and will take at least a graze or two.

    OR (jeez) for those who REALLY want missiles to have a chance of missing DO THIS:

    For every range increment SUBTRACT 1 POINT from the damage ROLL: i.e. at short range -1, at medium range -2, at long range -3.

    ALSO: dexterity adjustments to missile combat apply to DAMAGE rolls, but only to off-set range penalties. For example, an archer with a 13 dexterity (+1 to missile combat) will ALWAYS do at least 1 point of damage at short range, but has a chance to miss at medium (-1 from the damage roll) or long (-2). But at short range, he's going to DRILL you unless you are dodging.

    There, problem solved. I will update the .pdf.

  25. What about keeping the d20 roll and the auto-hit... divide your attack result by 5 (or 10 for the faint of heart) - strength and magic weapons still helpful here - and use as a multiplier on the damage die.

    Minimum 1 or round all results up, natch.

  26. @ Rainswept - does that take into account class/level? Or are you just trying to speed combat up faster with a damage multiplier?

    That IS crazy!
    ; )

  27. You bring up some interesting points, and to tell the truth, you were right on your early analysis. In a lot of games, it IS about the combat. I'd have argued D&D, but after 4th Edition, that's 100% true.

    I think your table risks making things more confusing than I would like in a system with no attack rolls. The goal for me would be more simplicity, but it's a great start for combining it with a current system, as is your goal.

    You've given me a lot to think about, and I'm likely to bookmark this page. :)

  28. @Entertainer13: Thanks...I'm glad it was food for thought.

    Personally, I don't find the tables much more difficult than the current tables...I don't do THAC0 calcs in my head and always check the tables anyway.

    But the damage shifts might take a little getting used to, I agree. In the end, I wanted a way of subtracting attack rolls that still accounted for characters' class, level, and opponents' AC.
    : )

  29. @ Aaron Hamric: Somehow your comment got deleted from the blog. Not sure how that happened.

    But in response, I'd just say that IN PRACTICE the auto-hit rule didn't work well enough to retain. Part of the problem was that it didn't scale well enough across multiple models (large creatures, incorporeal, missile combat, etc.). It worked VERY well for "man-to-man" battle...but D&D is about a lot more than that, generally speaking.

    Aaron wrote:

    ’d make the classes roll a certain damage die based on their combat proficiency. Weedy wizards roll d4, thieves and clerics roll d6, fighters roll d8. Circumstances that grant advantage or disadvantage to the attacker (adv. for a 2-handed weapon wielded by a strong enough dude/attacking from the high ground or disadv. for firing arrows in poor lighting or fighting in chest-deep bog water) would shift the die up or down one step. Only apply one case of advantage or disadvantage to an attack, and if both apply, they cancel out and the die stays the same. I’m thinking d2<—>d4<—>d6<—>d8<—>d10 etc, up to d20 to account for magical/other effects/weapon type (an ancient orbital LASER attack platform left by the Ancients might have a d12, or a d20 with a good firing solution, ie advantage).

    Keep the bonuses to damage from Str and magic weapons and just add them to the damage rolls, and consider adding Dex to ranged attacks. Make armor reduce damage based on its AC bonus, same for dex. Minimum weapon damage is equal to 1/4 the character’s level for mages (rounded up), 1/2 the PC’s level for thieves and clerics (rounded up), or equal to the fighter’s level, capped by the die they are rolling (4 for a d4, 6 for a d6, etc.)

    Just spitballing.

    I really like this auto-hit thing.