Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yet Another New Combat System

A while back, I offered up an alternative B/X combat system that used an “attackless” system (i.e. no attack roll). Though it was one of my more popular downloads, I received very little feedback on it…probably because no one is using it. I don’t blame folks; I’m not using it either.

Thing is, it was designed to do a couple things: 1) make combat faster by eliminating redundancy, and 2) make combat more dangerous. However, after the last three weeks, four game sessions, and some 10-11 hours of gaming I’ve come to the conclusion that B/X is:

- Fast enough
- Deadly enough

I mean, how many combat encounters have I run? 12 or 13? Including some pretty beefy ones (I’m counting the B1 Final Battle as one combat encounter though it involved two mummies, four ogres, 2 high level NPCs and a troll, broken into 3-4 “waves”). Even with Expert-level characters, death can come swiftly (well, except for dwarves…man, those little guys can soak up some punishment!).

Of course, I found this out recently when running X1: Isle of Dread. While the main PC (a 7th level cleric) was not eliminated, most of his buddies WERE…by wolves and cave bears. Wild animals. Not even dragons or giants! And another mid-level adventure (“Black Rock Island,” written by my buddy the Doc) ended in a TPK for a party of mid-level characters, due to an encounter with a (B/X modified) Grell (10 paralyzing attacks per round? You don’t think a few are going to hit and some saves are going to be blown?).

“Neat” as my attack-less system may have been, it’s over-kill in a game where survivability is far from guaranteed. Really, the fastest way to “up the deadly” is simply to increase the number of attacks thrown at player characters. Multiple attack monsters (claw/claw/bite) or hordes of little guys (goblins with pig stickers) will do a number on adventurers regardless of magic plate mail and high dexterity.

Well, usually. There IS an intersection of high hit points AND high armor class that seems to make some characters a LOT more invulnerable than others…which is probably the reason why I remember simple fighters being the most badass characters “back in the day.” Even though monsters need a 19 or 20 to hit you, if you only have 6 or 10 hit points a lucky shot can still eventually finish you off. Likewise, 20-30 hit points won’t last very long if you’ve got a weak-ass AC.

But combine the good armor with the high hit points? You become a veritable juggernaut.

Well anyway…back to my NEW new combat system: you’d think I’d get tired of tinkering with B/X combat and you’d be right; I AM tired of it. Why can’t things just be perfect? But my recent adventure sessions have left me a touch dissatisfied. And reading back over my old blog posts, I can see I was already onto a “good idea” right before my “attack-less system” (in fact, it was the good idea that directly LED to the attack-less system), namely HAVE BONUSES MODIFY DICE TYPE.

Rather than do my usual long-winded preamble (“pre-ramble?”) thing, I’m going to cut to the chase and lay out the new rules. After that, I will explain things on a point-by-point basis:


A) Attack rolls are un-changed from normal B/X. Two-handed weapons strike last in combat.

B) Damage rolls for ALL melee weapons start at D6, with the following exceptions:
- Halfling weapons roll D4
- Daggers roll D4
- Characters with Strength less than 9 roll D4

C) Normal bonuses to damage only increase DICE TYPE, not damage (e.g. a fighter with a +2 to damage increases damage from D6 to D10, i.e. two dice types).

D) Characters use ONLY THE HIGHER BONUS of Strength or magical enchantment (e.g. a fighter with 16 strength (+2) using a +1 sword only increases damage two dice types, NOT three). All bonuses are cumulative for the purpose of attack rolls (e.g. the fighter with a 16 strength wielding a +1 sword adds +3 to his attack roll) and a weapon’s enchantment bonus (only) is still used to determine whether or not a creature with weapon immunity can be attacked at all.

E) Normally, damage dice may NOT be increased above D12. A weapon that has an additional bonus against a certain type of opponent increases its dice roll by ONE type, and this bonus may increase the damage dice to D20. The standard bonus listed against a particular opponent is used as penalty to that opponent’s Morale rolls (so both a sword +1/+2 versus reptiles and +1/+4 versus trolls would only increase damage dice by one level for their specific opponent, but would add a +2 or +4 (respectively) to Morale checks for opponents of the specific type).

F) Using a two-handed weapon adds a +1 bonus to damage rolled.

G) Weapons with a +4 general bonus add +1 to damage rolls and weapons with a +5 general bonus add +2 to damage rolls; such powerful weapons may be found in the B/X Companion.

H) Doubling affects such as a thief’s backstab or girdle of giant strength apply their doubling effect AFTER all bonuses are added to a dice roll. Only one such doubling effect ever applies (for example a thief wearing a girdle of giant strength only doubles backstabbing damage; damage is NOT quadrupled!).

I) Damage for ALL missile weapons start at D6, though crossbows are treated as “two-handed weapons” (i.e. they always strike last compared to other missile weapons, but they gain a +1 bonus to damage rolled).

J) Magical enchantment increases dice type for missile weapons as for melee weapon. If using both an enchanted weapon AND enchanted ammunition only apply the highest bonus when determining dice type (for example, a +1 bow firing +2 arrows would only roll D10 for damage, NOT D12).

K) Wielding a weapon in each hand (“dual wielding”) allows you to roll your damage dice twice, retaining the better result.

These are going to be my new “standard” rules. I will probably continue to use my “Natural 20 does max damage” and “excess damage carries over to adjacent opponents” House Rules, as the modified max damage isn’t much different from my prior “double Strength bonus.”


A) This is standard.

B) People are probably going to give me crap about the Halflings. However, please note that part of the original balancing mechanics of B/X is the limited class of weapons available to the little guys (and gals). They’re still able to use missile weapons as effectively as other characters…and strength is a Prime Requisite of the Halfling class, so players can increase it if they want to do more damage. However, nothing changes the fact that Halflings are smaller, have less mass, less reach, and less leverage. They do less damage. As a SIDE NOTE, some DM’s may wish to limit Magic-Users to D4 damage also, due to “lack of training;” however, the Normal Human monster can do 1D6 damage even without being an adventurer, and I see no reason to limit a magic-user myself (unless he or she is only wielding a dagger). M-Us already have worse attack chances than other adventurers, and generally have low Strength (and they are unable to increase it as it’s not a Prime Req). I’d leave it the way it is. Sorry, Hobbits!

C) This was the whole point of the change.

D) Not only do I find this reasonable and a way to prevent “bonus creep,” I also find it echoes back to OD&D when magic swords only added to hit and not damage. I like this!

E) Basic and Expert magic weapons max out at +3, the same bonus as a character with 18 strength. Three dice types increase D6 to D12 so that seems a perfectly reasonable cut-off point. The D20 for “slayer weapons” makes those items even nicer to own. The morale rules were from an earlier blog post.

F) When I was adding double Strength bonus damage to two-handed weapons, average damage for a guy with 16 strength was showing up as 7.5 per hit (9.5 for Grouch with his +2 battle axe)…and it would have been even higher for the 18 strength Meaty if he’d chosen to use such a weapon. That is entirely too much in my opinion. A 16 strength human is still human, and shouldn’t be able to register an auto-kill against a Normal Human with a stroke of the club…I want him to work for it a little! This is another reason to go to the “Dice increase” scheme…even rolling a D12, there’s still a chance you’ll roll a “1” and only wound someone (instead of minimum damage being 5 ot 7!).

G) Had to address those Companion weapons! What’s the point of having a +4 or +5 weapon if it carries the same dice type as a +3 weapon? For Companion level challenges an extra damage bonus (of +1 or +2) IS appropriate. Some of those monsters are HARD. : ) However, it’s still LESS damage creep than an AD&D fighter with a +5 broadsword and 18/00 strength (let alone Weapon Specialization!).

H) I just like this. Also note that the same rules apply for tripling or quadrupling damage effects (for example, a Companion-level thief’s backstabbing ability). Some combinations are still extremely potent…a Wyrm Lance wielded by a fighter with a girdle of giant strength for example…but these rare individuals will be called upon to tackle the toughest challenges (like ancient wyrms).

As a quick example, let’s look at the Thor Hammer from the B/X Companion. A character with gauntlets of ogre power and wearing a girdle of giant strength (necessary to use the weapon at its greatest potential), does D12+2 damage, doubled (D12+2+1 if used two-handed) for a potential spread of 6-28 (or 8-30 two-handed). Under the standard B/X rules, such a weapon would do 18-28 (1D6+3+5 x2). Perhaps not as much as the AD&D Hammer of Thunderbolts (which got up into the 40s), but formidable enough, and with a more reasonable damage spread.

I & J) This is simply how the rules apply to missile weapons. Unlike the “attack-less” system there’s no issue with whether or not weapons miss. The crossbows “striking last” is the reason (I believe) that Moldvay lists the crossbow as a “two-handed weapon” in the Basic set (unlike, say, the bow…which still uses two hands!). Giving the crossbow the extra damage bonus also helps replicate (to my mind) the “weapon so deadly it was outlawed by the Pope.”

K) This is likewise standard; other Companion stipulations (regarding minimum Strength and Dexterity) would still apply if used previously.


  1. D) Not only do I find this reasonable and a way to prevent “bonus creep,” I also find it echoes back to OD&D when magic swords only added to hit and not damage. I like this!

    What if you went whole-hog and said magic weapon only add to the combat roll and not damage? As presented here, I find it too fiddly (i.e. I have to think too much); having to decide which bonus is better and having +4/5 weapons follow different rules.

  2. Well I was a bit miffed when you pooh poohed cave bears as a threat. You, who poked through the entrails of Jaxson Bloodproud after his oh so brief encounter with a cave bear. How do you sleep at night?

    I've toyed around with the same idea of increasing die type by bonus. And I like Mathew's idea of letting magic weapons count only for to hit rolls.

    For 2-handed I just thought maybe you could limit the applicable strenght bonus. Small weapons max 1 die increase regardless of strenght-medium weapons 2 die types- 2 handed three die types. So 18 strength has to wield a 2 handed weapon to make the most of their strength.

    They make d14s & d16s. I know I have them. the d14 seems rare (also has days of the week marked on it. D16s seem a little more common.

  3. @ Matthew: it's really less fiddly, man. You only have to worry about +4 and +5 weapons if you're playing Companion level (15th+) games. There's nothing above +3 in the B/X or LL. You just take the higher of Strength or the magic...'nuff said!

    @ Grat Sax Violence: Dude, I would NEVER disrespect the bear in any form! How well, I remember Jax's mauling (while my thief cowered inside a locked cabin!)! I'm just saying that even 7th level characters (characters with the ability to RAISE the DEAD!) aren't immune to the claw/claw/bite of a big growler.

    And poor Jax was what? Third level? That was a lost cause...
    : (