Wednesday, June 22, 2011

D6 Dopplehanders

So, I spent a good part of today thinking about shields in the D&D game because, to be quite honest, I think there's a damn crapload of ignorance out there. Shields in D&D are plenty awesome and a lot of the nay-sayers sound a might silly to my ears.

However, in running the numbers for shields (in anticipation of throwing up a blog post that proved my my point of view - duh) I had to work out the math on two-handed weapons, some of my personal favorite things in the whole world and something that I've attempted to deal with in a number of different ways over the last couple years.

I figure we better deal with that issue first.

OD&D (the original Little Brown Books) state that all hits inflict 1-6 points of damage "unless otherwise noted" (there aren't any notes regarding weapons, though some monsters inflict more damage). There are many two-handed weapons on the LBB equipment list...none are any different from any of the single-handed weapons.

In the B/X Basic rules (based largely on the LBBs), Moldvay writes this:

AMOUNT OF DAMAGE: All weapon attacks by characters (PC or NPC) will do 1-6 (1d6) points of damage, adjusted by Strength and magical bonuses, if applicable. If the Variable Weapon Damage system (hereafter) is used, check the weapon type to find how much damage each weapon will do (adjusted by Strength and magical bonuses or penalties).

Directly beneath the Variable Weapon Damage table on page B27, we find the following notes:

Whenever a two-handed weapon is used (including pole arms), the attacker cannot use a shield (this may reduce the Armor Class of the attacker) and will always lose the initiative, whatever the roll (see page B23).

Interesting that the VWD table distinguishes quarrels as two-handed and arrows as not. In the past, I assumed this was to show crossbows attacked last in combat like two-handers. However, this is left unclear, and it is equally unclear whether or not the "two-handed weapon strikes last" rule is standard OR if it is an optional rule to only be used in conjunction with the VWD table.

The Cook/Marsh Expert set is more explicit. On page X4 it discusses some of the differences between the Holmes and Moldvay Basic sets including the following:

WEAPONS (Optional)

Two-Handed Weapons. Heavy two-handed weapons (flail, battle axe, pole arms, etc.) may strike once per round, but strike last in the round, regardless of initiative.

Crossbows. Crossbows may be fired once every two rounds, taking one round to load and one to fire.

In the Encounter chapter, it again lists - and expands - the Variable Weapon Damage table, although this time there is no mention of the table as being optional or of D6 being the standard damage for all weapon attacks by characters (PC and NPC). Interestingly, crossbow bolts are still listed as "two-handed" (and arrows are NOT) and there is no mention of the flail anywhere, despite the reference on in the Introduction.

[*sigh*] B/X isn't perfect, folks. But we knew that.

We'll skip the later editions which make the VWD table (or variations thereof) the "standard practice." For me personally, I have found that the D6 damage for all weapons works the best...both practically and philosophically. And, yes, in my youth I used ALL the variant tables I could find...back then, I played AD&D and it was the height of cool to use a pickaxe from the Dungeoneers Survival Guide when said weapon did 1D20 damage.

I've gotten smarter since then.

But two-handed weapons have continued to trouble me...all the moreso because I LOVE a big ol' axe or two-handed sledge. I want their to be an advantage to using such a beast in combat...after all, people DID use them in combat, forsaking the benefit of a shield (more on that later) for the sure grip and intimidating reach such a weapon would give them.

But there is no benefit to using a two-handed weapon in melee in B/X play. Well, sure, if you use the VWD then a two-handed sword or pole-arm allows you to roll D10 damage...but a battle axe only does D8 damage, the same as a "normal" sword...and the axe was a LOT more prevalent on the field of battle during most of the bronze-iron age than the arming sword. And for good reason: it kicked hella' ass.

And anyway, I'm not using the VWD anymore, for reasons I explained in my earlier post.

And let's back-up for a quick second...just what constitutes a one-handed versus a two-handed weapon anyway? A Scottish claymore was generally considered a two-handed weapon, though many highlanders still carried a shield and used it with one-hand. The German zwiehander (a weapon very similar to the Otus illustration on page B12) was even bigger, being about 6' long (with a 4'-5' blade) and was only used two-handed.

On the other hand, many one-handed swords were used with a two-handed grip: the estoc, the knightly arming sword, the "longsword" were all useable both one- and two- handed, and often were...especially when being used to pierce heavy (plate) armor. Many were designed to be gripped with one hand on the blade, in order to work like a medieval pry-bar when stabbing your opponent to death.

Especially when considering these weapons were designed for use in man-to-man combat, it is ridiculous to think that they would provide some sort of extra damage bonus when used against monstrous fantasy creatures. Against these beasts, one would be well-advised to stick to tried and true methods of destruction: lancing the beast with a long spear or hitting it with the sharp end of an axe.

The battle axe is terribly maligned in most every edition of D&D, though most especially AD&D as I've written before. And it shouldn't be, dammit! Even if I miss with the sharp end, smacking someone with the blunt end of a mass weapon is going to ring his bell, if not induce death from blunt force trauma. How many whacks with the axe is your wood and hide shield deflect before, oh, I'm sorry, did my blade bite a 3" gash in your forearm and smash your ulna? What did you expect? It's an axe. Good thing you had a vambrace.

But I digress (as usual)'s the thing. A two-handed war sledge, or axe, or greatsword that splits the head of an opponent is accomplishing the same thing as a one-handed mace or hatchet or saber that splits the head of an opponent. The two-handed weapons mind do it in a slightly messier fashion, and may require a bit of a "wind up" but dead is dead is dead.

I don't have a problem with two-handed weapons striking last in a round; a lighter weapon or a natural beast attack is faster by comparison. But there IS a reason for using two-handed weapons and that reason is, for the most part, the same as the reason for most weapon development over the years.

Armor penetration. To get to the squishy parts on the inside.

A one-handed blade or hatchet might glance off a heavy templar helm, whereas a two-handed flail or bearded axe might can cave the damn thing in. Two-handed weapons - blunt, sharp, or stabbing - were crafted with a mind towards getting the killing part of the tool into the frail human body that was so well protected by man's ingenuity. That being said, a two-handed weapon does do some truly impressive damage with a direct hit, even on a blow that's not immediately mortal.

So here're the new rules for play-testing:
  • Two-handed weapons strike last in a melee (already standard in my games).
  • Two-handed weapons do D8 instead of D6 damage (already implemented; worked great in my "B/X Shadowrun" game as well).
  • Two-handed weapons enjoy a +1 bonus to attack rolls (to represent damage penetration).
I do not want to do different types of weapon versus different types of armor, or anything like that...combat in B/X is abstract and keeping things as simple as possible seems the best policy at this point.

Now some folks who think shields are "too weak" as written may feel these rules are too much incentive for characters to not use shields; but we'll get to that in the next post. Suffice is to say, I feel two-handed weapons NEED a huge incentive, 'cause as it is, the shield-bearer has some pretty big advantages over the warrior with the dopplehander. The question is not "why would anyone use a shield?" The question is, why would anyone NOT use a shield?

But we'll get to that later. Time to hit the hay.


  1. I think there's a damn crapload of ignorance out there. Shields in D&D are plenty awesome and a lot of the nay-sayers sound a might silly to my ears.

    Not a very endearing way to start your post... and you went on to say nothing about why shields are awesome in D&D. Given a choice between Leather Armor or a Shield, the Shield is better protection in the real world. That's not modelled well by D&D. It's a great game, but this is one of it's weak spots.

  2. Um, dittos to Stuart.
    My fix is just use the shields shall be splintered rule -- not becasue it is realistic but because it is awesome.
    I also give 2-handers a +1 to hit, to account for their superior penetration, and although all weapons use the character's HD for damage, two-handers roll twice and keep the best.
    That said I'm looking forward to your next post.

  3. @ Stu: True enough, though I wasn't trying to be endearing.

    @ Mike: "Awesome" is, of course, in the mind of the beholder. I'm sure there are folks who play different editions from myself because they find certain aspects (like skills and healing surges) to be "awesome."

  4. Which is why I can't wait to see why you think that the shield rules as written in B/X are "awesome."

  5. I only understood the shield kerfluffle from a simulationist point of view. From a game perspective: No one in our game who can use a shield seems to pass up the opportunity to do so. Two-handed weapons, though, are uniformly ignored. Too little benefit (especially the poor battle axe), too many penalties. Interested to see what your next post has to say.

  6. Interesting, I've been thinking about weapons and shields recently as well. Though where you favor B/X, I like my solution to be more OD&D-flavored. So in looking for a solution I went back to the source, Chainmail.

    I went into some detail on my blog, but the gist of it is that Chainmail actually models this quite well. Using the original man-to-man system, two-handed weapons are simply better at hitting, and thus dealing damage, than one-handed weapons. On the other hand, smaller weapons tend to go first in combat, and can often make multiple attacks. And on top of all that, using leather alone is AC 8, while using a shield alone is AC 7 (as opposed to later editions, where the two are switched).

    My solution uses a weapon vs. armor modifier table, which I know you explicitly said you didn't want, but I think it's interesting that a lot of "problems" that people come across in the old rules were really not problems at all if you play them as written.

  7. I've always played it that the "slow people" go simul with the otherside if their side won the init (if their side lost, it doesn't really matter). It doesn't make sense otherwise, imo. and what about if a guy with a two-handed sword is fighting a zombie, who automatically goes last? Who the hell goes first? (Yes, I know, simul-strike!)

  8. @ Anthony: I always make zombies attack after EVERYone, even the two-handed folks.

    @ Duck: my lack of the Chainmail rules is a constant source of embarrassment and frustration to me.

  9. Ok, ok, I know I'm damned simply for being an AD&Der, but this issue just came up in the game I started this past Sunday. I have to admit that I really like the +1 to Hit to represent better AP, but here is what I wrote regarding my AD&D solution to the same problem.

    My continued goal is to err on the side of "evocative" rather than fall for the trick of assuming that anything D&Dish is designed to be truely "realistic."

    Great post! Thanks for the thoughts!


  10. You could simplify the 2-hander rules as such: attack last, weapon counts as +1.

    That's effectively what you do by giving +1 to hit and +1 average damage. Yes, 2-7 is not exactly the same as 1-6, but it's close enough.

    Of course the +1 isn't magical, so you won't hit a wight with it, but that should be pretty obvious.

    What do you do about a magical 2-hander of speed? Does it roll initiative normally as a single-hander? Or does it get the full benefit of a single-hander of speed in that it always goes first? I'd rather just have the speed magic upgrade it one place, to a regular initiative roll.

  11. Er, 2-7 is not exactly the same as 1-8 etc.

  12. @ D30: I'm going to post an update to this in the near future.

    In the past, I HAVE used the "weapon +1" rule, but I prefer the D8. The average damage stays the same and there's still a chance of only scoring a "1" on the damage dice (there should always be a "chance of graze/scratch" even with a 2 handed. It's not like it's coated in acid or something!).

    There are no "weapons of speed" in B/X. In my B/X Companion there are two "speed" weapons (a sword of speed...which might be two-handed...and the berserker axe); both address the issue in their item description.